5 Ways to Bridge the Mainframe Skills Gap

As businesses innovate and invest in new technologies, attracting new talent interested in mainframe continues to be a challenge -- especially as more experienced mainframe professionals retire.

Petra Goude, Global Practice Leader, Core Enterprise and zCloud

December 12, 2023

3 Min Read
bridging a gap with blocks
Andriy Popov via Alamy Stock

Many business and IT leaders are struggling to answer an important question: How can they continue to rely on mainframe technology to power their mission-critical environments if they no longer have the skills needed to manage and modernize these complex IT systems?

While the mainframe has long provided the essential performance, reliability and security that businesses around the world depend on, a shortage of skilled programmers is impeding innovation for companies running critical applications and workloads on mainframe platforms.

What’s more, businesses are struggling to fuse old mainframe environments with emerging technologies such as cloud to increase operational agility and flexibility. At the same time, attracting new talent interested in mainframes is a challenge and experienced mainframe professionals are retiring, creating a gap in essential experience.

Looking ahead, mastering programming languages such as COBOL, CICS and IMS will be a highly valuable and lucrative skillset for those seeking programming jobs. In fact, programmers who choose to adopt and develop these skills could become among the most coveted tech experts in the IT industry.

To bridge the mainframe skills gap, companies should consider these five steps:

1. Market the importance and value of mainframe skills

Growing the mainframe workforce requires a more inclusive understanding of the skills needed to fuel IT modernization, as well as confidence that mainframe skills and knowledge can lead to professional success. As the mainframe becomes more integrated with cloud environments, mainframe expertise should be treated as not only complementary -- but necessary -- to commanding the latest technology. For technology professionals, gaining mainframe skills should be considered an essential step toward a rewarding, secure and long-term career.

2. Invest in mainframe education

Beyond encouraging mainframe expertise, companies must invest in mainframe training programs. Collaborating with universities and higher education institutions can be a great starting point to promote training and attract employees with the skills needed to manage complex IT environments. Technology leaders should create education opportunities in their communities for professionals to learn the older application programming languages often used in mainframe environments.

3. Bridge the gap through technology investments

Technology can also play a role in addressing the skills gap. Unifying application development, testing, and deployment techniques and processes for cloud and mainframe developers by leveraging integrated DevSecOps tools can broaden access to mainframe technology. These shifts enable faster development and innovation, and can help to grow the workforce.

4. Enable modern programming languages on the mainframe

Integrating applications running on the cloud with counterparts on the mainframe through modern web application programming interfaces (APIs) offers the added benefit of making the mainframe accessible to a newer, younger workforce. Enabling the use of more modern types of languages, such as Java or Python, through API integration allows applications to run on and off the mainframe and ensures that young hires can be directly involved in the application, development and maintenance (ADM) space.

5. Work with an IT services provider with mainframe capabilities

When the lack of mainframe expertise within an organization becomes an inhibitor to advancing mainframe modernization initiatives, working with a third-party advisor with expert IT consultants can also help to fill the skills gap. A mainframe services provider can bring the deep expertise and experience needed for complex IT transformations.

The steps are applied at our company, too. With more than 7,500 highly skilled and diverse mainframe experts who have earned more than 69,000 badges and 2,250 certifications, we are investing in their continued skills-building and education programs to support organizations as they need to deal with declining skills.

Solving the mainframe skills shortage isn’t simply a business challenge -- it’s an imperative. To ensure that this trusted and secure technology continues to meet the needs of thousands of businesses for years to come, it’s important to act now. Doing so will help companies ensure that they are better prepared to adapt their operations to ever-changing market demands and dynamics.

About the Author(s)

Petra Goude

Global Practice Leader, Core Enterprise and zCloud, Kyndryl

Petra Goude is the leader of Kyndryl's Core Enterprise and zCloud practice. As practice leader, her mission is to apply the breadth and depth of Kyndryl’s capabilities to provide the best solutions for customers as they modernize their IBM Z and IBM I environments and devise their hybrid cloud strategy.

Previously, Petra served as Kyndryl’s Go-to-market Operations and Customer Advocacy Leader. Prior to joining Kyndryl, Petra led IBM Global Technology Services (GTS) in the Nordics. In addition, she led the expansion of IBM’s Infrastructure (IS) and Technology Support Services (TSS) across the Nordics for IBM. Read more about Petra, here.

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