With potentially 84,000 new mainframe positions emerging by 2020, finding the specialized and mature skillset needed to fulfil mainframe requirements could be difficult

Despite the fact that much of the discussion around the technology skills shortage have focused on relatively novel areas of ICT required for digital transformation, the most acute skills threat facing many organizations is to the legacy technology that makes up their core infrastructure. The ageing cohort of IT professionals with the right skills to work with legacy technology such as the mainframe is an increasingly alarming situation.

Recent industry research has found there could be 84,000 mainframe related job vacancies within the next three years – when placed in the context of demographic trends, this is not so surprising, as an entire generation begins to exit the workforce. The mainframe plays a vital role in underpinning much of the day-to-day IT functioning that keeps modern, technologically-advanced organizations on track. Indeed, by some estimates, 90 per cent of the Fortune 500’s core systems are mainframes.

While the mainframe has not been seen as a ‘sexy’ topic in the technology world since its heyday in the early days of IT revolution in the 1960s, it retains its place as the foundational block of infrastructure for many organisations. We still see many organisations entrust some of their most vital data and some of their most important processing tasks to the mainframe. However, this longevity comes with an inconvenient side-effect – many of those IT professionals who played a role in bringing the power of the mainframe to business and maintaining it are now reaching the age where the comfort of retirement beckons.

As a legacy technology, working with the mainframe often requires specialized knowledge, such as coding languages that have long fallen out of favour – by contrast, the new generation of IT professionals generally focus on the skills required for digital transformation, such as cloud computing. As time takes its toll and the pool of IT professionals with these specialized skills diminishes, so organisations using legacy mainframe technology will find themselves competing and paying higher rates for those that remain in the workforce – driving maintenance costs yet still higher. The danger is that organizations will have to either spend inordinate amounts on merely maintaining this legacy infrastructure, or risk neglecting it. Considering this technology plays a key role in a variety of mission critical applications for almost three quarters of organizations in this research, that is probably not a viable option.

Yes, an organization could seek to train a new generation of IT professionals in these legacy mainframe skills. However, not only is this not a particularly attractive notion to a generation raised on the progressive possibilities of digital transformation, it also means investing in a set of skills which aren’t generally transferable to other areas of IT.

We decided to attack the problem from a different angle. What if the current standard skillset could be used to work with the mainframe? Instead of investing in re-skilling staff or hiring expensive veteran mainframe-ers, organizations can deploy their existing skillset to access all the capabilities of a mainframe, in a modernized system.