Mainframe Talent

Modern mainframe organizations recognize the persistent shortage of external, mainframe-skilled personnel and ensure long-term mainframe workforce vitality and efficacy by building internal mainframe talent pools. The synergy of workforce succession planning, strategic mainframe upskilling, and internal mobility provides a powerful solution to a persistent mainframe industry challenge.

Mainframe Upskilling Your Plentiful Non-Mainframe IT Personnel

Locating and hiring external, mainframe skilled graduates and professionals is typically a difficult and costly task. A study by The Josh Bersin Company showed that it can cost as much as SIX times more to hire from the outside than to build from within! 1

Mainframe organizations are increasingly electing to mainframe upskill select, high-potential, non-mainframe IT personnel — then move them optimally skilled across to open mainframe roles as needed. In this article, I outline what I am seeing in the industry: the best practices to build an internal mainframe talent pool, and how to mainframe upskill your select, high-potential non-mainframe IT personnel.

1. Identify Mainframe Talent Needs

Organizations should understand their current and long-term future mainframe talent needs based on business goals, retirement/attrition forecasts, and skills gaps. Utilize methods including workforce planning, talent mapping, and competency modeling to analyze the talent supply and demand. This will help determine critical mainframe roles, high demand skills, and which employees are ready or have the potential to move up or across the organization.

2. Identify High-Potential, Non-Mainframe IT Employees

Identify employees in other IT departments who demonstrate qualities, skills, and attitudes that align with the mainframe organization’s values and strategic goals. To identify these employees, you can utilize manager or mentor opinion, performance reviews, psychometric testing, and career conversations, which enable you to evaluate your employees’ strengths, weaknesses, interests, aspirations, and potential for a mainframe career. Recognizing and acknowledging these employees will motivate them to invest further in their long-term professional growth and development toward a mainframe career.

3. Develop Your Mainframe Talent Pool

Now that your organization has identified a pool of high-potential programmers, DBA’s, security professionals, and systems administrators, it’s time to empower and inspire them. Show that you are investing in them by arming them with the mainframe skills and knowledge they need to excel in a mainframe career. Inspire them to want a career on the world’s most consequential computer system and help them feel part of this remarkable global mainframe community.

Mainframe Upskilling Components

Over the last decade, I have seen the following upskilling components prove successful in mainframe talent pool development. They keep costs low, require minimal effort from mainframe managers, deliver superior mainframe skills, and inspire employees with a passion for mainframe work and long-term mainframe careers.

Easy-to-Access Mainframe Training

The critical core of your internal mainframe talent pool is an extensive, year-round, on-demand resource of structured online mainframe training. The mainframe talent pool’s high-potential non-mainframe IT employees must have extensive mainframe training at their fingertips and be able to complete it on-demand — between and around their regular IT work. Having to wait for mainframe training or jump through hoops to get it increases the likelihood of potential future mainframers becoming disillusioned and losing interest.

The on-demand mainframe training resource should offer a variety of training modalities including courses, videos, assessments, and hands-on labs to keep training interesting. It should provide clear direction, with easy-to-follow learning paths based on desired mainframe job roles. It should begin with mainframe foundations and build all the way to advanced mainframe skills. It should be scalable and globally deliverable. This digital mainframe training resource is the heavy lifter, providing the bulk of the training at low cost, and with a minimum amount of work/guidance required from mainframe managers.

As your future mainframers gain mainframe skills and show more commitment, I recommend they job-shadow with your experienced mainframe personnel and join cross-functional mainframe projects. 

Digital Credentials

IBM digital badges are the fuel for your mainframe professional development program, motivating personnel to complete more training and achieve better training outcomes. For organizations building a successful internal mainframe talent pool, half the task is providing the mainframe training, and the other half is providing motivation for employees to complete the training.

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A study of IBM employees showed that adding IBM digital badges to training created triple digit growth across a broad range of training metrics. The number of IBM personnel actively seeking and enrolling in training increased by 129% and personnel completing their training courses increased by 226%. IBM personnel were so motivated to pass the end-of-course exam to earn the badge, that the end-of-course pass rate increased a stunning 694%.

Digital badges add many other benefits. The recognition that comes from earning a badge sees future mainframers more emotionally invested in their mainframe career and more connected with the global mainframe community. Digital badges also provide your organization with skills benchmarking, proving employees who have earned an IBM badge possess specified mainframe skills. Skills-based hiring depends on digital credentialing!

Skills Data

As your mainframe talent pool’s upskilled IT employees build their mainframe skills, your Learning Management System records masses of training data. This data enables objective analysis of skills, remaining skill gaps, proficiency, engagement, commitment, interests, training habits, and more. Your mainframe organization can objectively plan long-term and ensure there will always be optimally mainframe-skilled, internal IT employees available to fill mainframe positions.

Mainframe Coaching and Mentoring

Beyond structured training, it is the decades of experience, wisdom, back story, culture, context, community, relationships, and system specific knowledge of your organization’s senior mainframers that must be passed on pre-retirement, to your next generation of mainframers.

To facilitate this critical knowledge transfer, mainframe coaching and mentoring must be part of your mainframe talent pool development. Senior mainframers don’t have the time to be teachers, so mainframe coaching and mentoring is optimally achieved utilizing the existing resource of online mainframe training to do the teaching.

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Mainframe talent pool employees complete set courses, then senior mainframers — armed with the insight of the training data — touch base once a month to recap, answer questions, advise, and set the mentee up with their next set of online mainframe courses and other training tasks (e.g., documents to read, colleagues to speak with, and exercises to complete). Rinse and repeat! This modern coaching and mentoring method is the most successful way I have seen to facilitate critical mainframe knowledge transfer, at scale, and without overburdening senior mainframers.

Mainframe Community

Your mainframe talent pool should become part of your organization’s mainframe community, and the broader global mainframe community! Ensure that your mainframe team connects with potential future colleagues in the mainframe talent pool via your corporate social network and via job shadowing and cross-functional mainframe projects.

Budget permitting, your mainframe talent pool’s upskilling non-mainframe IT employees could attend a user group conference like SHARE, GSE or IDUG! Nothing will get future mainframers more empowered and connected than a few days of in-person learning and networking! If the budget does not permit, then the IBM Z Day virtual conference is free every year and should not be missed.

IBM’s broad array of online communities offer a place to collaborate, share knowledge, and connect with the global mainframe community, as do the numerous mainframe focused groups on LinkedIn.

Establish a Learning Culture and Measure Results

A learning culture is a set of organizational values, processes, and practices that encourage employees, and the organization, to continually learn and add new skills. Simply put, it’s a shift from teaching employees to inspiring every individual to learn.

Speak with your learning and development leaders and discover how they are promoting learning culture at your organization. Key factors already include the copious training you are providing, the recognition and reward of the IBM badges, and the internal mobility that demonstrates your organization rewards hard work and passion with career opportunity!

A final key step is to monitor and measure your outcomes by tracking and evaluating your program. Use metrics such as retention rate, turnover rate, promotion rate, internal hire rate, time to fill, cost per hire, and employee satisfaction, to measure your program’s effectiveness and impact. You can also use feedback surveys, focus groups, and interviews to collect qualitative data and insights from your employees and managers.

Your Mainframe Talent Pool

A mainframe organization can only be as successful as the skilled, motivated team that runs its mainframe system, and locating and hiring sufficient external college graduates and skilled mainframe professionals to fill that team has long been a challenge. Today, mainframe organizations are increasingly relying on internal mainframe talent pools to ensure an optimally staffed mainframe workforce, with the added benefits of objective, long-term mainframe workforce planning, increased workforce satisfaction and loyalty, skills benchmarking, and reduced cost. It is a powerful solution to a persistent mainframe industry challenge.

1 Build Vs. Buy: The Days of Hiring Scarce Technical Skills Are Over

Darren Surch is CEO of Interskill Learning, the world's most delivered and most IBM credentialed mainframe training. A 30-year mainframe industry veteran, Darren is one of only two people IBM has ever named ‘Lifetime IBM Champion’ for IBM Z.

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