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The technology industry is in the midst of a hurricane, with leaders having to balance tough economic conditions, budget pressures and customer pressure for the latest innovations and technology-driven services. Between focusing on the company’s output and customer needs and strengthening their organization by building a robust talent pool, technology leaders’ priorities are, understandably, torn.
What makes this pressure even more challenging is the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find technical talent, something that is especially felt in the mainframe field. New research from Deloitte found that 79% of business leaders identified acquiring the right resources and skills as their top mainframe-related challenge.
Defying the odds
There is a unique and challenging set of factors hindering the search for mainframe talent: an aging workforce, combined with new hires who don’t know or are not convinced that mainframe has a future for them.
Organizations need a new approach to address this challenge and inspire new talent to build a career in mainframe.
Why Mainframe Matters
Mainframes remain the foundation of much of modern IT. It is trusted across all industries to conduct 30 billion business transactions daily 92 of the top 100 banks, 67 of the Fortune 100 companies, four of the top five airlines and seven of the top 10 global retailers all rely on the technology to run their IT environments. This reputation has been built because mainframe is reliable, secure and can handle large amounts of data, making it perfectly placed to run mission-critical applications.
Across the industry, IT teams are working to modernize their systems, and mainframe is undergoing a similar change. However, this does not mean that mainframe will disappear. On the contrary, we see mainframe adapting to a hybrid structure that combines the best of mainframe with the best of the cloud. The result is a new infrastructure that needs people with mainframe skills to lead and direct this new future of modern IT.
While mainframe may seem daunting for those starting their careers, it is an area that opens many doors in the tech industry. It is critical that we inspire IT talent to consider mainframe and support them as they get started in the industry.
The possibilities of a mainframe career
There are several selling points for a career in mainframe. At its core, it’s varied – encompassing a range of roles from product development to capability management, operations to compliance – and each role is in high demand. Perhaps the most attractive opportunity, however, is that your mainframe skills give you the opportunity to be an integral part of a company’s technology strategy.
Modernization and integration journeys create opportunities for individuals with mainframe skills to become involved in the advancements that take an organization beyond the constraints imposed by its legacy IT assets and into its ambitious future.
The trick for leaders is to build an effective talent pipeline that supports people throughout their careers, from developing skills to putting those skills to meaningful use in the workplace. Programs such as mainframe academies can be valuable entry points for people entering the field. Building an effective trajectory that emphasizes flexibility and diversity is an important way organizations can support new hires as they learn skills and develop new opportunities on your team.
These types of programs must coexist with an organizational culture that encourages participation from all levels of the company, from technical experts to global leadership. Involving various team members in this “tech training community” gives individuals the opportunity to take on a mentoring role and train new recruits based on their experience. This type of program adds an extra dimension to your training, providing both high-level expertise and hands-on experience, which will be essential in giving your new entrants a well-rounded experience of a mainframe role. Promoting a training community inspires your new recruits to commit to your organization while also encouraging your more experienced team members to invest time back into the wider team by mentoring the next generation of mainframe talent.
Educating the next generation
It is critical that training covers all mainframe disciplines, whether in a virtual or in-person setting. Remote training can be just as effective as in-person courses because it allows new starters to work through the content on their own time. Online courses, such as WebX or CPD, can be useful tools to help your team get started in their careers. This kind of flexible approach lets new talent know you are committed to their education, ambition and skill development; essentially that you are not afraid to invest time and money in their career and that you are motivated to help them excel.
Tailoring your programs to individual skills is an excellent way to inspire all candidates, regardless of previous experience. Design your program to challenge each person without overwhelming them, and give each potential employee the chance to test mainframe and feel prepared enough to take on mainframe challenges outside of training.
Building multiple entry points into your programs is an effective way to segregate your candidates and break down training to accommodate a variety of experiences. For example, an entry level might include basic skills, which you can then build on with lab experience before moving your candidates to permanent positions within your workforce.
In addition, establishing steps and phases for candidates to work gives structure to your program and clear progress markers. So, for example, if your candidates are struggling to develop a particular skill set, they can assess where they are going wrong and which aspects they should focus on specifically. This process works in the candidate’s favor and ensures that you build successful individuals in the field.
Preparing your candidates in this end-to-end way builds their skills while gradually exposing them to the demands of the industry and showing them the value of working in an industry like mainframe.
Why the future looks bright for mainframe
There are many new mainframe opportunities on the horizon. As leaders advance integration and modernization processes, we see mainframe being aligned with the needs of modern businesses. For example, modern programming languages can increasingly be used on mainframes. In addition, as companies move their workloads from mainframe to cloud, we will see the platform used for next-generation technologies. In addition, we can expect the introduction of more DevOps and self-service approaches to improve the efficiency of mainframe running.
The trajectory for a career in mainframe is therefore about to blossom. However, without the right support systems in place, talent is steered away from the industry before it even gives it a second thought. The industry is currently under pressure to fill the skills gap, and as it stands, the tactics used by many are not inspiring new talent to join the industry and support the mainframe as it evolves.
Companies that seem to be a driving force in training, mentoring and other talent reward programs will be the ones that build a strong mainframe team and benefit from it in the long run. Not acting is no longer an option. IT organizations must now look for a strong foundation if they hope to make mainframe a valuable part of their future and not leave it like cobwebs in their past.
Mike Pennaz is head of mainframe strategy, integration and practice at Ensono.
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