Academic Initiative Addresses zEnterprise Skills

Is there a mainframe skills shortage? Before the recession there certainly was talk of it although it never quite materialized as predicted. Sure, data center managers openly wondered how they would replace the skilled mainframers nearing retirement age, but the market meltdown that wiped out a big chunk of 401k retirement savings and the subsequent recession seemed to delay a lot of retirement plans.

IT analyst Joe Clabby questioned the notion of a skills shortage in a TechTarget piece here. And if there is still a looming a mainframe skills shortage IBM’s System z Academic Initiative seems to be making great progress in heading it off.

IBM’s Academic Initiative for System z, now in its eight year, has enlisted over 1000 educational institutions, which it is equipping with the tools and materials to teach enterprise systems thinking and mainframe skills. Over 43,000 students have taken courses or otherwise gained mainframe exposure through the program. Most importantly, these students are landing mainframe jobs at leading companies like Bank of Montreal, Bank of America, and Citigroup.

While the national unemployment rate in general remains unacceptably high, stubbornly stuck at 9%, the mainframe unemployment rate, based on non-scientific anecdotal evidence, seems much lower. Messages to DancingDinosaur complaining about the lack of mainframe jobs, frequent a year ago have stopped completely. And mainframe job postings appear regularly on LinkedIn’s numerous mainframe interest groups.

A recent briefing on the Academic Initiative for System z made the point that most System z organizations do NOT face a general skills issue. Almost two-thirds of the shops responding to an IBM question on the subject noted that they have the skills they need. If there was any problem, it is among midsize shops (500-1499 MIPS) where 20% complained that they have openings but cannot attract people with z skills. Among the largest shops, 17% reported openings but couldn’t get management approval to fill them. If this is where the biggest percentage of complaints is then clearly there is no mainframe skills problem.

Still, if you need a mainframe job, IBM, through the System z Academic Initiative, has made a mainframe jobs bulletin board ( available free to job seekers. A recent visit showed over 1500 mainframe jobs posted. You can access the jobs board here or post a job.

Many of the schools participating in the Academic Initiative for System z do not have their own mainframe. Instead they remotely access a mainframe IBM has made available elsewhere to give students and faculty access to a System z.

Syracuse University has its own z10 and has been using it to cultivate enterprise systems thinking among its students. Most students, according to David Dischiave, the faculty member heading the Academic Initiative at Syracuse, arrive at school with “false technology awareness.” Sure they know how to swipe smartphones and run apps, but they lack fundamental technology skills and, especially, they lack enterprise systems thinking, which is central to the role of the mainframe.

Dischiave has been pleased to see increased student interest in the school’s reinvigorated enterprise systems curriculum. But what caught him by surprise was the pushback from the faculty, which wasn’t prepared. They better get prepared. Going forward, they can expect enterprise systems thinking to become even more critical on all platforms as the zEnterprise and virtualized and hybrid computing gain traction.

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