Aussie course trains new mainframe staff

Mainframe shortage is being addressed down under

In Australia, the looming shortage of mainframe skills is being addressed through a specialised mainframe tertiary education programme.

The programme, run by IBM training partner Global Online Learning, is filling a gap that is widening in many countries, Global Online Learning managing director Murray Woods says. "In most large mainframe shops, you have an aging skilled population and it's aging mainly because there's limited replacement [staff] coming through," he says.

The replacement potential is limited "because for the last 20 years, universities around the world have focused on producing students with client-server and Unix skills," Woods says.

One reason for that is that teaching client-server and Unix courses is easier than providing mainframe ones, he says. "The mainframe isn't available on campus for teaching like it was in the 1970s — then, university administration mainframes were available for use."

As Unix boxes became the norm, that resource became unavailable to university IT departments and as a result, most IT graduates taken into mainframe environments today "aren't trained and aren't prepared for it", Woods says.

"It's a more complex and procedural environment than the web front end."

The most in-demand mainframe trait is the ability to span from the mainframe to the web front end, he says.

"Most large organisations with a mainframe are going through the process of web-enabling all their apps and web-enablement of mainframe apps is where the skills shortage is."

The Global Online Learning mainframe programme is taught at Griffith University in Australia and is soon to enrol its fourth intake of students.

Part of the course involves being placed with organisations that use mainframes and while there have been some applicants from New Zealand, "so far, we haven't been able to place them", a situation he is hoping to change in the near future.

He says he doesn't foresee a replacement for mainframes in the next ten years for large organisations that utilise them for large volume transaction processing.

New Zealand mainframe users include banks, the IRD and some other large government departments. Clayton Wakefield, ASB Bank's technology and operations general manager, says the mainframe skills shortage "hasn't reached us yet, but it's something we're considering".

Over the next decade, he says, "a lot of organisations will be looking to the next generation [of technology] and migrating away from mainframes and the skills issue may be part of that equation," he says.

ASB has a "very good, very stable" mainframe team and while there's no skills shortage yet, "none of us are getting any younger", he says.

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