Mainframe skills shortage fears grow

Nearly three-quarters of large enterprises are concerned about how their mainframe applications are going to be handled in the future.


Nearly three-quarters of large enterprises are concerned about how their mainframe applications are going to be handled in the future.

According to a recent survey, 72 percent of financial institutions are concerned or very concerned about how their mainframe applications will be run in a few years' time. Businesses said that the buzz around cloud computing and SaaS meant they would not be able to retain employees with the necessary skills to maintain legacy kit such as IBM mainframe or AS/400.

The survey is in line with a similar report commissioned by CA which found that 83 percent of UK respondents were concerned about the shortage of mainframe skills.

Phil Jones, chief technology officer of systems supplier Shoden, who commissioned the most recent survey, said it was a taboo subject for many organisations. "Many of the people who work with mainframes have been there some years and are getting older and greyer. The companies do have to work out what to do when those people retire and start planning now," he said. "It's a problem that's definitely going to hit them - maybe not tomorrow, next month or even next year, but it will hit them," he added.

"Young people coming into the industry today don't see mainframes as a technology for the future. They see areas like cloud computing or Web 2.0 as the areas to work in. Organisations are going to have to think carefully about who's going to work on their legacy kit."

He offered a couple of suggestions. "It could be that businesses run a sort of ‘zig-zag' scheme where new entrants to IT could work on mainframes before going off to do something else. It could be that older employees could be enticed back, in the same way that the Year 2000 meant old Cobol programmers were very much in demand."

Part of the problem faced by many organisations is that many don't know what all their legacy applications do and how many are vital. Jones said that businesses should start flushing out what's needed, although, he admitted, many IT departments had been hit by staffing and budget cuts that made long-term planning difficult.

Jones said that it was obvious that some organisations would move to the cloud but, he said, this also necessitated some planning. "You have to think, if I don't need a data centre what would my staff levels be? And their jobs would change, you'd need a total rethink on staffing.

The poll surveyed 100 senior IT decision makers in end user companies spanning industries including financial, manufacturing, retail, distribution, transport and utilities.

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