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There's a Mainframe Skills Gap. Here Are Three Ways to Address It

Milan Shetti

March 17, 2023

The IT skills gap, which has incrementally worsened over the last decade, is becoming a full-blown crisis for many businesses. While many were prepared for Baby Boomers leaving the workforce, they were not anticipating two outcomes from the pandemic – and the Great Resignation coupled with a strong job market has been a gut punch.

This is having a significant impact on enterprise’s ability to manage core technologies, like mainframes, that are vital to every company’s tech stack, but lack the appeal of other technologies like programming, software development, and data science to the crop of new IT professionals coming from Gen Y and Z.

These younger generations often think that mainframes are no longer relevant when, in fact, the technology is still the backbone for processing large data sets at many enterprises and in industries where security is a business differentiator.

Faced with the reality that there isn’t enough tech talent to go around, how do companies attract mainframe professionals? The current market has certainly created urgency for companies to communicate the right messages to the right people and the best tools to modernize the mainframe experience.

Here are three tips that companies can use to highlight the opportunities available in the mainframe space.

1. Expand the candidate pool

There’s no replacing experience and managers looking to do so will only be met with disappointment. To find new talent, companies must expand their candidate pools. While these recruits might not have all the skills yet, they have the potential to bring immense value to your company with the right support.

One way to expand the candidate pool is to recruit people who are changing career paths or industries. As the Great Resignation continues, companies must recognize that there is a growing group of professionals looking to make a change and seek out the candidates that will most benefit their organization – regardless of IT background. If they are a good cultural fit, these professionals are prime candidates for re- and up-skilling.

Another consideration: An apprenticeship program that builds employee expertise from the ground-up and helps them succeed by providing the appropriate training. At the end of the program, employers can choose to extend full-time offers.

2. Market the importance of mainframe

Companies know that recruiting requires investment and that their people are their biggest asset. One place to start with filling the mainframe skills gap is with the education system. Unfortunately, many colleges are not offering mainframe education and training; companies should lobby institutions to include these skills in their curriculum, such as teaching students COBOL. 

Once candidates graduate (hopefully with some foundational mainframe skills) companies need to disseminate messaging that appeals to them, illustrating why the mainframe is an exciting technology with powerful, mission-critical capabilities while communicating opportunities for growth – as many professionals in the industry retire, there is the chance to quickly gain responsibility and provide value, resulting in job security and good compensation. Shine a spotlight on mainframe technology and its strategy value to the organization.

3.Create a flexible work environment

Employee churn has high costs, which is why it is important to tailor the workplace experience to this next generation of mainframe professionals to increase retention. This should include proper training, support, and benefit offerings to encourage employees to stay with a company. Additionally, be prepared to provide the flexibility that many younger professionals expect, such as the option to work remotely, or outside of traditional 9 to 5 hours. 

Mainframe mangers should also be aware that these professionals are digital natives with new expectations for engaging with technology. Traditional mainframe interfaces with poor user experiences may deter them. Organizations will need to modernize their tools with user-friendly graphical interfaces—this way even inexperienced employees can maintain mainframe operations.

Filling the mainframe skills gap is essential to keeping these mission-critical technologies operating. As mainframes continue to support businesses across industries, successful organizations will be the ones that invest in the best tools and the top talent.