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Bringing New Talent to the Mainframe Workforce

IBM Z Champion Marc I. Smith on how to engage next-generation mainframers.

Illustrated hands in the air.

In 2007 when I became the “manager” of the IBM
Destination z community website, coupled with my work to recruit schools in Texas to teach mainframe courses as part of the IBM Academic Initiative for Z, a door was opened for me to start attending conferences such as SHARE, IBM TechU and others. 

At that time, it was obvious that the workforce was aging rapidly. As you looked around the main tent sessions, you saw a prominence of grey and white hair. Fast forward to both the TechU 2019 in Atlanta, and SHARE 2019 in Pittsburgh to find that the population of mainframe workers is, in fact, getting younger. Many are starting straight out of college! 

New IBM Z Talent

For those of us who have been working to bring younger workers into the IBM Z* fold, this is a pat on the back, but we are not done yet. According to The Washington Post, 10,000 baby boomers retire each day worldwide, and a shortage of qualified graduates are available to take their place. However, with an estimated 84,000 mainframe job openings in 2020, it’s apparent that a shortage of IBM Z skills will continue.  

Some students were brought to the VM Workshop hosted this year at Virginia Commonwealth University. These students from Bergen Community College in New Jersey attended sessions and networked with the professionals. In return, they shared their excitement regarding what they’re learning and the opportunities they’re gaining. 

In addition, at the TechU and SHARE conferences, IBM hosted panel discussions with students who are studying the mainframe as well as new hires from several industries who shared stories on how they discovered the mainframe, started down their career path and how they’re integrating into the workforce.

IT’s Best-Kept Secret

At the SHARE event in Pittsburgh this past August, I gave a session that shared “IT’s Best-Kept Secret” to attendees with the goal of spreading awareness of IBM Z to students. The presentation is targeted to high school and college students in an effort to make them aware that the IBM Z platform exists and explain what it is, who uses it and the career opportunities that it represents

My own experiences in regard to my student audiences shows that 90% of the students, especially in high school, have no idea what IBM is, much less anything about the mainframe. College students may have heard of IBM, especially if they’re already taking courses. Because IBM is strictly B2B now with no consumer goods on the market, the brand is largely unknown to young people.

My message here is that if you want to go out to your local schools to help enlighten young minds about “IT’s Best-Kept Secret” and help steer students toward some of the IBM Academic Initiative schools that IBM has been working to secure and promote. 

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