Is there really a shortage in mainframe skills?
It is hard to believe that there is a shortage of skills in a field which, according to IDC, represents 13% of the economy and is responsible for 65% of critical major applications for industrial and financial organizations. This statistic shows the economic importance of a system that is far from finished, and instead is evolving to adapt to new technologies.
Perversely, if the mainframe business is doing well thanks to the resilience of legacy applications at the heart of modern information systems, the same does not apply to mainframe skills. The aging mainframe-skilled population and the lack of COBOL and mainframe training in engineering schools created a gap that is not being filled.
COBOL is not a dead language
COBOL is suffering from its reputation of obsolescence, reinforced by many external observers. A point of view contradicted by IBM itself, who is constantly improving COBOL in order for it to adapt to the needs of modern mainframe application development. Today, COBOL is not only a modern language but it is also the most effective language on z Systems.
The reputation of obsolescence has nevertheless made its mark, orienting the choices of new engineers towards trendier systems and languages rather than the less obvious COBOL. And so for the last decade or more, engineering schools have been neglecting this older technology, refusing to acknowledge that it will still be around for many years.
Time for a positive communication policy around the mainframe
The transfer of skills from one generation to another is a challenge which can be only be solved by communicating on how easy it is to use such a system. It’s now necessary to inform engineers that working in the mainframe sector doesn’t mean that they have to abandon new technology! Instead, the mainframe needs modern engineers to move towards these new technologies. Indeed, the z Systems market is quickly evolving and needs many resources to achieve this goal.
To reflect this, IBM is trying to draw students into working on the mainframe, by informing them about the various mainframe opportunities on the market, where “40% of companies are looking to hire”.
Also, several further education programs are offering partnerships in the mainframe field, such as the IBM “System z Academy” or Volvo IT’s “Mainframe Academy”.
Offering customized training programs for the transfer of mainframe skills
In order to help companies with their choices regarding legacy applications, some training providers specialized in mainframe technology, working with a network of experts, can assist these companies to transfer the necessary skills through a targeted audit of the z System experts, and help them to master their mainframe system as it is, or to make it evolve into a modern information system.
Depending on the needs of each company, specific training programs for IT teams are required to guarantee that mainframe skills will be maintained in the future. It is vital to be assisted by specialists in order to reinforce or to find the necessary resources, and also maybe to delegate other activities to third parties. Specific courses can thus be deployed to reinforce a skill in a particular field (COBOL, RACF RACF, etc.), or to certify an employee in order to give him or her more responsibility around the mainframe (“z/OS System programmer” for instance).
There is a real opportunity to overcome the lack of mainframe human resources today, by relying on the expertise and the mainframe skills of these specialized training providers. As an example, Blondeau Informatique has been implementing such policies with major companies for more than 20 years, in order to maintain mainframe skills.