With the accelerated rate of technological innovation today, it is no surprise that the gap to empower the talent pool has grown ever wider. One particular area that needs attention is the fact that 92 out of 100 top global banks still rely on mainframes to host their core systems, according to IBM.

Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the staff necessary to service and support mainframes and packaged and bespoke applications running on them. The number of people who maintain and support them is decreasing. IT professionals who started and developed their careers alongside the evolution mainframe are reaching the point where they have the option to stop working full-time (if at all) or to expect significant compensation commensurate with their experience and expertise.

Depending on this demographic cohort as the sole source of mainframe expertise is a posture enterprises should not dare repeat—the consequences could shake up the IT ecosystem.

Further, there are fewer IT professionals in the next demographic cohort, Gen X, since they usually focus on non-mainframe technologies prevalent during their training and careers. As a result, the same people supporting the mainframe have remained, while new additions to the workforce have specialized in modern technology.

Filling the mainframe skills gap

Bridging the mainframe skills gap is no easy task, but it is urgent and necessary. Here are four recommendations for enterprise IT leaders aiming to fill the gap:

  1. Do not limit your pool of candidates to experienced mainframe professionals. Seeking to replace departing mainframe professionals only with candidates that have identical skillsets and depth of experience is a pointless game. The pool of candidates of that type will continue to decline and there is no turning back the hands of time.
  2. Strategize how you will invest in and enable next-gen recruits. As a necessary follow-up to the previous point, filling those positions with younger professionals requires investment and cannot be done cheap, quick and well all at the same time. Skimping on one only increases the burden on the other two, and skimping on two or even three is a sure path to failure.
  3. Investment is needed in terms of funding for education. This begins with influencing colleges and universities to return mainframe coursework to the curriculum. Offer attractive, secure opportunities to applicants. Time is required to help IT professionals gain proficiency. Expecting them to duplicate decades of experience from the start is naïve.
  4.  IT managers must engage with emerging professionals. Leaders must frequently and thoughtfully guide young mainframe workers to give them the best chance for success. Work with them to course-correct daily, and focus on the quality of their work to empower them and ultimately encourage other aspiring IT professionals to consider working on mainframes.
  5. Software vendors have a role to play too. Gen Zers start from a different time and perspective, have a different relationship with technology and therefore have different expectations for it. As such, independent software vendors play a crucial role in filling the mainframe skills gap as they support the needs of this new generation of professionals. Vendors must understand the expectations of these new users, cater to their needs, and actively restructure their platforms in a way that corresponds to how Gen Zw ill interact with it, like liberating their user experience from the character-based legacy green screen, and offering graphical point-and-click, drag-and-drop, touch-friendly interfaces. These interfaces must be free of time-and-place constraints, supporting full mobility and different form factors such as a tablet.

Despite the massive gap in the mainframe talent pool, it is notable that the new generation is keen on dipping their hands into mainframe technology.

For industry to continue benefiting from the mainframe, proactive measures must be taken to ensure that there are enough professionals who can fill the shoes of the current cohort.