Mainframe Skills Gap Is Growing: 3 Ways to Bridge It


Despite the plethora of opportunities available in mainframe technology, the skills gap continues to grow. In this article, Jeff Cherrington, vice president, product management, System Z, Rocket Software, discusses a few ways companies can bridge this gap and attract new talent.

Businesses that use mainframe technology are experiencing a generational gap as new talent is increasingly difficult to find. At the same time, as many seasoned employees retire, they take their expertise with them, bringing new challenges to onboarding and training. This is coupled with the misguided perception that mainframe technology is outdated, which deters many new hires.

In reality, mainframe workloads are increasingOpens a new window as they facilitate the bulk data processing required in industries from finance to healthcare. Though they may not realize it, people are interacting with solutions that run on mainframes every single day. With the right messaging and strategy, companies can bridge the mainframe skills gap to demonstrate the abundant opportunities available on the mainframe and the mission-critical work that can, and must, be done to keep day-to-day operations running. 

When focused on maintaining and maximizing traditional technologies, like the mainframe, there are certain things organizations can do to attract and encourage new talent:

1. Invest in Next-gen Recruits

Filling positions with emerging professionals requires significant investment. Businesses should commit resources to support educational programs, including lobbying colleges and universities to increase their mainframe coursework. Today’s IT recruits probably have not received mainframe educationOpens a new window and training, such as learning COBOL, as it is often not present in universities’ curriculums today. In the long term, investing resources into influencing this content will pay off when applicants graduate and are better prepared to contribute to your organization.

Once candidates graduate and are looking for their new jobs, it’s important to broadcast the right messaging that appeals to them. Communicate the opportunities for growth available in the mainframe space. For one, it is an exciting technology with powerful capabilities to perform an array of tasks from Java to webpage dispatch to TCP/IP connections and more. On top of that, with many professionals retiring, there is the chance for newer employees to become very valuable, very quickly. As the people running some of the most important programs and applications at an organization, those who excel in the mainframe space will receive good compensation and job security while working on exciting, high-impact projects. When recruiting, companies should be sure to frame discussions with these perspectives. 

The investment in next-gen recruits can’t stop after a candidate has been hired. Employee churn has high costs, and retention is beneficial to the organization. That’s why proper training, support and benefit offerings should be established to encourage employees to stay with a company. 

See More: Why are Developers in Such High Demand Right Now?

2. Expand the Pool of Candidates

With so many expert-level professionals retiring, it may be tempting to seek out their same skill sets and depth of experience. However, this search will likely be unproductive, and that pool of candidates will continue to decline without the addition of new talent. Instead, companies should expand their pool of candidates to include recruits that may not have the same qualifications but ample potential. 

For instance, companies can consider applicants without traditional four-year degrees by offering apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships have typically been the path for trades such as plumbing and electrical but can also be effective in tech industries, as proven by the increase in certificate-based programsOpens a new window . With this strategy, companies can build employees’ expertise from the ground up to ensure they have what it takes to succeed at the company, whether that’s hard or soft skills. At the end of the apprenticeship, employers have the option to extend a full-time employment offer, creating another pipeline for new hires. 

Another unconventional way to expand the candidate pool is to search for people looking to make a career change. With all of the recent discussion around the “Great ResignationOpens a new window ,” it is clear that a large portion of the workforce is looking to find a new job. Companies should consider applicants with previous professional or educational backgrounds not necessarily in the IT industry and invest in reskilling and upskilling those candidates. The diversity of thought and perspective these recruits can bring will provide added benefits to an organization on top of the renewed commitment and drive they will have to succeed in a new field. 

See More: Key Skills Tech Employees Need for Digital Transformation

3. Modernize the Experience

Mainframe managers should also consider that this new generation of professionals has grown up in a different world than previous ones. As digital natives, they have new expectations for engaging with technology, and traditional interfaces and clunky user experiences won’t be attractive to them. To meet these expectations, organizations will need to modernize their tools to provide user-friendly graphical interfaces that encourage rapid adoption. Additionally, with emerging technologies that automate many mainframe processes, it is increasingly possible for non-specialists to support mainframe maintenance.

This new generation also has different expectations for what work looks like as a whole, so employers must modernize the work structures at their organization. Can employees work remotely from wherever they live, or will they need to relocate? Are they expected to work traditional 9 to 5 hours, or is there flexibility? Potential hires will ask these questions, and employers should be prepared to offer competitive responses to attract top talent. 

Mainframe technology will continue to be the backbone of many businesses, so filling this skills gap should be a priority going forward. To secure their future success, companies will need to invest in the right tools and the right people. 

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