Act now to avoid mainframe skills gap

By Andrew Charlesworth
13 Apr 2010 View Comments
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Organisations dependent on mainframes should plan now how they will maintain the necessary skills to keep their operations running over the next 10 years, warns industry advisory firm Gartner.

Mainframe skills will be in short supply soon as current staff and contractors with deep application and business knowledge retire, says Gartner’s report entitled Ensuring You Have Mainframe Skills Through 2020.

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While IBM is investing heavily in its mainframe training programme, the total number of graduates with z/OS mastery is still small and competition for them will be fierce, says Gartner vice president and report author Mike Chuba. IBM’s competitors, such as HP and Microsoft, software vendors such as CA, consultancies, systems integrators, outsourcers and end user organisations will all be fishing in the same small pool.

Organisations that use older mainframes or machines from other vendors possibly face an even bigger skills shortfall, warns Chuba.

Consequently, mainframe-dependent organisations need to put in place a comprehensive plan to train existing staff, transfer knowledge from specialists approaching retirement, recruit new graduates from mainframe courses and purchase products that automate mainframe operations.

“Many organisations have specialists with years of deep knowledge – a formal plan to capture and pass on that knowledge via cross-training or mentoring of existing personnel is critical,” says the report.

Chuba recommends that IT leaders work closely with HR to map when the organisation will be most vulnerable to a shortfall in mainframe skills and plan how to mitigate the potential crisis with cross-training of existing staff and internships for graduates of college training programmes.

“We’ve found HR can often be detached and not fully understand the risks involved,” Chuba told Computing.

How severe the mainframe skills shortfall will be depends on how early the organisation addresses the problem, said Chuba. “We’ve seen some financial services organisations that have recognised this issue early and engaged with IBM to funnel in graduates and young hires. But the hiring freeze over the past 15 to 18 months has put others in a difficult position.”

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