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How to Attract Next-Gen Mainframe Talent

On October 16, the Making Our Strong Community Stronger initiative (MSCS) hosted a webinar focused on how to make the mainframe space more accessible to people of all backgrounds. The webinar, “Closing the Knowledge Gap: How to Attract and Retain Next-Gen Mainframe Talent,” featured the following panelists:

  • Moderator Derek Powe, senior vice president, zArchitecture computing at M&T Bank
  • Jen Corio, director, talent acquisition at BMC
  • Earl Dixon Jr., principal client services, Vitality program tech lead at Broadcom Mainframe Software
  • Shelly Meierarend, IBM Z global skills leader at IBM
  • John Mertic, executive director at Open Mainframe Project

Making Our Strong Community Stronger

MSCS is an initiative organized to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the mainframe and technology industries. It is a collaborative effort sponsored by IBM, TechChannel, Broadcom, BMC, Rocket Software and the Open Mainframe Project.

Multiple factors have created talent gaps to be filled in the mainframe industry, including racial diversity, gender equity and skills shortages. According to Zippia, almost 74% of mainframe developers are men, and 58% are white.

Retirement is another reason for a mainframe skills gap, which multiple panelists mentioned. “I joined BMC seven years ago and at that point we were saying, ‘Everybody’s retiring—what are we going to do? All this knowledge, all these skills,” Corio said. “There is this stigma that the mainframe is not cool, it’s not sexy, it’s not hungry skills for the future.”

She noted, however, that all the things people can do on their phones—transfer money to someone, pay a bill and more—involve the mainframe.

Powe also discussed how a retirement wave helped him get onto the mainframe.

“I was literally told that people are retiring left and right and there hasn’t really been an open door for hiring—that’s changed,” he said. “You’re not only having a problem finding people with the skills; you’re not even finding people with enough interest, and that’s why we’re trying to spark that interest.”

Opportunities on the Mainframe

Powe highlighted the internship and tech development programs specifically focused on Z mainframes at M & T Bank.

Corio also discussed the need to attract new talent, mentioning that BMC noted an “extreme skill shortage” in its professional services department. That led BMC to create the NextGen program, a 17-month program that teaches participants about the mainframe through hands-on and self-driven learning, Corio said.

Dixon Jr. discussed two programs that Broadcom offers to attract new people to the mainframe space. The first is a paid, in-person internship program at four locations around the country: Pittsburgh; Lisle, Ill.; Plano, Texas; and Durham, N.C. The application development-focused program is open to college juniors and above who are pursuing a major related to computing.

He also highlighted Broadcom’s Vitality program, a paid program open to recent graduates who have majors focusing on computing and people who are looking for a career change. The program includes training on mainframe basics, system programming and Broadcom’s mainframe products. The next part of the program is a residency, where participants work at one of Broadcom’s customers (a Fortune 100 or 500 company) for three to six months while getting paid by Broadcom. Dixon Jr. said that all those companies are in a position to hire participants who perform well. He talked about one woman who went from working in veterinary services to doing the Vitality program and becoming a senior engineer at Broadcom in the span of three years.

Meierarend discussed IBM’s Z Xplore Learning Platform, a course offered year-round to teach people about IBM Z. It has three levels and takes about 32 hours to complete, she said. Meierarend also put a spotlight on IBM’s Z career connection events, where IBM employees present at colleges and universities to talk about opportunities on the mainframe.

Mertic spoke about Open Mainframe Project’s paid virtual mentorship program, highlighting that many students have stayed in the mainframe industry after completing the program. All the students “get to make practical impacts on the mainframe industry as a whole,” he said.

The program had more than 700 applicants in the past year and is the largest mentorship program offered by the Linux Foundation, Mertic said.

How to Get Started on the Mainframe

All the panelists had similar advice regarding getting started on the mainframe. They advocated for learning about the mainframe during college, finding a mentor, being curious, asking questions and being active in the space. They emphasized that it’s a technology with staying power.

“[The mainframe] is going nowhere,” Dixon Jr. said. “Banks aren’t going to give it up. The governments aren’t giving it up. Most of the main players in the mainframe space are not walking away from the mainframe.”

View the full webinar here.

Find more information on MSCS here.

View more MSCS webinars here.