The mainframe plays a critical role in large-scale financial, insurance and commercial organizations around the world. With the IBM investment of $1 billion in the popular Z13 Series platform, the mainframe can now support the ability to process 2.5 billion transactions per day, as well as support mobility, encryption and embedded analytics.
It is an exciting time to be in the mainframe space because these are exactly the capabilities that organizations are looking for.
The growing demands of digital business require unprecedented levels of performance, availability and agility, coupled with rapid response to any incidents. These abilities are exactly what the mainframe excels in. This is why the mainframe remains the workhorse of core transaction processing in many industries. With this kind of increased usage and visibility, the question of how to overcome the mainframe talent shortage continues to be a concern for IT leaders in mainframe centric organizations that have decided to 'stay-the-course'.
While mainframes aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon, mainframe staffs are retiring. The youngest baby boomer is now fifty-two years old. With a combination of age and years of service these individuals can retire well before the traditional sixty-five. Many of these systems were built in the 60's, 70's and 80's and are not documented. When people retire they can take all of the institutional knowledge with them. To make matters worse few schools are teaching mainframe skills any more.
Where do you Start?
A key element in the talent equation is positioning the mainframe organization as an exciting and tech-forward place to invest career time. IT organizations need to be able to understand the factors that attract individuals to join companies. Once the drivers are understood they can develop strategies and actionable tactics to attract and retain the new generation of mainframe experts.
But what are those strategies and tactics? As an IT leader where do you start?
Q. The mainframe is often regarded as ancient, obsolete technology, running spaghetti code – systems that IT would love to retire. Is this an accurate description? Is the mainframe going away? How is this relevant to the problem of mainframe talent?
A. In today’s digital centric world, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of existing technology. In fact today’s mainframe cannot only handle huge volumes of transactions it can also support mobile, security, and is exceptional at managing big data. In addition companies like IBM, Compuware, Micro Focus and Computer Associates have developed modern software tools, which support collaboration and communication and have the look and feel of the tools that ICT students would use in school. The mainframe is here to stay and as big data grows in importance it will be interesting to see the mainframe gains the respect it deserves.
It is important to come to grips with the position of the mainframe within your organization before you begin working on your talent strategy because you must become its champion. If you don't believe it still has a place and meaningful function, then you won't be able to convince the new generation of mainframers that it is an exciting area to work.
Q. What can I do to get a new generation of ICT professionals to choose to work in the mainframe area of the business?
A. There are a number of things that you can do to attract the next generation of mainframe experts to your organization. Here are my five of my favourites:
Revisit your entire Sourcing Strategy
Reposition your Recruitment Branding
Rethink your Job Descriptions and Postings
Reimagine your Early Talent Program
Reposition your Online Presence
Revisit your Sourcing Strategy – Simple! If you want to attract a new generation of mainframe talent you need to do a total rethink of your talent sourcing strategy. In the past when you wanted to fill an open position you probably picked-up the phone and called a recruiter, contacted people in your network or posted your position online. Before long qualified candidates would emerge and you would interview and hire someone.
Due to the massive retirement of baby boomers and the fact that few schools are teaching mainframe skills, the pool of available mainframe talent is small. When you add to this the fact that graduates are more interested in mobile, applications, security and IoT – you can see the scope of the challenge. Traditional techniques that worked well in the past need to be updated for the reality of today. To be successful in your hiring you must be open to looking at your sourcing and retention strategies in a different way. Start by accepting that how you find people (sourcing) must change and become more creative and diversified.
Reposition your employer Recruitment Branding – Your brand is what sets you apart from other employers and defines you as a great place to work. It describes why you are ‘cool’. It also shapes the perception of current and future employees. It is important that you use branding as an opportunity to tell the exciting story of why the mainframe is important to your organization.
According to Great Place to Work ® Institute, top companies to work for are ones that have successfully built trust-based cultures, developed strong relationships with employees, and have put in place programs to develop their workplace. “Sell” the benefits of your organization and working in the mainframe group.
Rethink your Job Descriptions and Job Postings – As an employer hoping to attract hard to find skills it is important to make sure all the vacancies you publish (online, social, print, etc.) are thorough and not only communicates what your company stands for but talks about the culture of the mainframe group and why it is a great place to work. According to Bayt.com seven out of 10 professionals want to work for a company that has career growth prospects, encourages new ideas, and provides training opportunities. Don’t forget to include these details when creating your message.
Another important tip is to ensure that the application process is simple – enter, search, view and apply. Go through the process yourself to make sure the all steps work smoothly on a PC, Tablet and mobile device. This will incite candidates to want to join you!
Reimagine your Early Talent Program to Include Mainframe – Early talent development means investing in people at the start of their careers. Most large organizations have intern, or early talent programs open to undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates. These programs promote the company with tag lines such as “Land an awesome intern gig at CompanyXYZ and gain valuable real-world skills, experience and business connections.” If your mainframe group is not part of the Early Talent program then this is a great place to start a dialogue. If you have done your homework and created compelling brand messaging around your mainframe environment, there will be candidates interested in working with you.
Reposition your Online Presence – The best companies shine online, using all of the tools available to them to present a dynamic presence. Take the time to understand the various social tools that your organization supports and how you could use them to get your mainframe message across. To get the most out of your investment in online, assign responsibility for the monitoring and managing to someone on your team.
Invest to reach the right candidates and in the ways that they enjoy. It is increasingly a mobile world and it is important that candidates can read the job description online and complete the application process in a fast and efficient manner – 60 seconds or less; no sign-up or passwords required. For posting your job requirements there are many choices however in recent SilkRoad study "Indeed and SimplyHired", provided the majority of external online recruitment activity – 54% of interviews and 56% of hires. (The study participants included: Indeed, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Monster, SimplyHired, Glassdoor, Kijiji, Snagajob.)
With so many social media choices you should choose the social media that would be a good match for the candidates you are looking for. LinkedIn might be a good choice for people with mainframe skills where as Pinterest would be better for people interested in the visual arts. Consider using online for much more than posting and accepting job applications. Online career fairs, online chats, podcasts and webinars are all ways that you can access the talent you need.
Summary - Hiring mainframe talent is not going to get easier in the short-term however there are many ways to get around the problem so that you can reduce the risk to your organization and sleep at night.