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Modern IBM Z Workforce Training

How to build a modern mainframe computing workforce

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An optimally trained mainframe computing workforce is an important part of your organization’s success. The speed of change in enterprise platform technologies, the shifting generational makeup of the IBM Z® workforce and this year’s disruption to common workplace methodologies are accelerating the need for more modern mainframe workforce training methods. Fortunately, with the great advancements in our understanding of how people learn, the broad array of new training technologies and the internet, there are many ways we can simply and inexpensively empower mainframe workforce training programs.

Modern enterprise platform workforce training should be blended learning. An organization’s diverse IBM Z workforce should have access to a broad array of classroom, conferences, e-learning, hands-on labs, assessments, coaching/mentoring, on-the-job training, self-directed learning and more. It should be measured by training analytics and reporting and backed by clear organizational training goals, credentialing, rewards, recognition and a culture of learning. It’s time to take advantage of the cost savings, versatility, logistical simplicity, efficiency and overall increases in training effectiveness that modern mainframe workforce training components offer.

Classroom and Conferences

IBM’s Global Training Partners deliver quality classroom training globally. Use classroom courses strategically as part of a structured program and never just send people to ad hoc classes.

IBM Systems Technical University (TechU) conferences run by IBM and SHARE conferences run by IBM’s mainframe user group provide outstanding IBM Z education and mainframe industry networking. The industry is also well served by mainframe user groups such as COBOL User Groups, International Db2® Users Group and more. 


A broad curriculum of mainframe e-learning should be a core, year-round, on-demand component of all IBM Z workforce training programs. E-learning can economically deliver consistent, accessible and scalable mainframe training to anyone who needs it, whenever they want it and wherever they are.

Modern IBM Z e-learning provides versatile content that can be used as the foundation of coaching and mentoring programs, boot camps for new employees and internal webinars. It also utilizes interactivity and simulation to provide optimal training for all experience levels and job roles. Personnel using e-learning learn 5x more material for every hour of training. E-learning also provides the organization with objective, real-time data on training progress, results and workforce proficiency.

Hands-On Labs

Hands-on time on an IBM Z system is optimal training. Organizations can pay to send personnel to external lab classes, but many organizations now utilize a dedicated training “sandbox” on their own IBM Z for hands-on training. Organizations can develop their own mainframe sandbox exercises or utilize premade sandbox exercises from industry training vendors. 

Effective Assessment

Organizations must be able to objectively evaluate strengths, weaknesses, skills and skill gaps of individuals, teams or the workforce. Assessment pinpoints training needs and focuses limited training time where it does the most good. It calculates training ROI, identifies rising talent, enables objective performance appraisals and can provide proof of compliance. Remember: It’s better to identify a skill gap via an assessment than to find out the hard way.

Coaching and Mentoring

It’s key that organizations transfer decades of IBM Z knowledge, wisdom and experience to the IBM Z next generation before senior mainframers retire. This vital knowledge transfer is best achieved via structured, internal coaching and mentoring over many years as part of career development. 

Senior mainframers are busy and often don’t have time to actively teach multiple mentees. An optimal solution is to use mainframe e-learning to do the heavy technical training and keep coaching/mentoring input to short sessions imparting priceless context, wisdom and experience.

Boot Camps

IBM Z training immersion boot camps are widely used to train recently hired mainframe personnel, but they can be expensive and keep personnel away from work. Many organizations now utilize a low cost, flexible, less disruptive mix of internal enterprise platform coaching, e-learning, hands-on labs and on-the-job training to train new hires.

On-the-Job Training and Self-Directed Learning

Modern IBM Z personnel are lifelong learners. Organizations need a go-to portal with on-demand access to mainframe training and references. Include internal documentation, a training sandbox, and links to IBM resources such as IBM Redbooks® and IBM Skills Gateway. 

Other Considerations

Cross training non-mainframe personnel in mainframe skills builds an agile enterprise workforce of versatile IT personnel and polyglot programmers. Organizations have the insurance of a pool of cross-trained, internal personnel that can be quickly redirected to enterprise platform projects or urgent mainframe issues. 

Cost and ROI should inform all workforce training program decisions. Utilizing low-cost mainframe training options where possible and expensive options sparingly stretches the budget and provides significantly more training annually. Corporate learning management systems provide detailed, objective data on workforce proficiency, training delivered and efficacy of training components. 

Credentialing, Reward and Recognition

Digital credentials have revolutionized how the technical community assesses and promotes skills and achievements. The IBM Digital Badge Program awards prestigious digital credentials (badges) for a broad range of achievements and training.

An IBM study showed incorporating IBM Badges into a mainframe workforce training program delivered a 125% increase in people actively training, a 226% increase in course completion rates and a 694% increase in course exam pass rates. The motivation badges offer exponentially increases the amount of training completed without managers having to push. Additionally, personnel provided with copious training and the recognition of IBM credentials are 3x more engaged at work and half as likely to leave their organization.

Culture of Learning

A culture of learning is a set of organizational values, processes and practices that encourages employees and the organization to continually learn and add new skills. My particular favorite is from training luminary Josh Bersin, who describes a culture of learning as, “a shift from teaching employees, to inspiring individuals to learn.” He states that, “The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture.”

A culture of learning will remove the need for your organization to “push” training and will have your workforce “pull” training. Personnel want to train and actively seek out training and learning at every opportunity, increasing workforce engagement, productivity, efficiency, morale and agility.

Developing a culture of learning is all about formalizing your program, recognizing and rewarding learners and achievers, getting feedback, and focusing on hiring people with a high motivation to learn.

Next Steps

An optimally performing, optimally trained IBM Z computing workforce is within your organization’s reach but requires your action. Task internal leaders and champions to implement appropriate mainframe workforce training components. Utilize quality industry training vendors strategically and make them work hard for you. 

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