Friday 02 Jun 2023
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on October 24, 2022 - October 30, 2022

For years, businesses that use mainframe technology have been seeing their seasoned professionals retire. Now, companies are struggling to find new talent to fill this skills vacuum, and when they do, it is difficult to properly train them without the established experts to offer guidance.

By 2030, the lack of talent will badly affect Asia-Pacific, with the region at risk of having a shortage of 47 million workers. This will accumulate to US$4.238 trillion in unrealised annual revenue. One of the challenges is the market focus on newer coding languages, that is, young people interested in IT careers have a misconception that mainframe technology is no longer relevant.

This is far from the truth. Studies show that mainframe workload is increasing and, for businesses using mainframe technology, it forms the backbone of their digital customer interactions.

Without knowing it, many people engage with technology that relies on the mainframe every day, from buying a concert ticket to using an ATM. To combat this perception, companies seeking to attract mainframe professionals need a strategy for communicating the right messages to the right people and the best tools to modernise the mainframe experience.

Here are three tips companies can use to highlight the opportunities available in the mainframe space.

1. Do not limit the candidate pool

Managers looking to hire candidates with the same expert-level résumé as the professionals who are retiring are going to face inevitable disappointment. Searching for the same skill sets and depth of experience is unproductive, as candidate pools continue to decline without the addition of new talent. To effectively seek out new hires, companies must expand their candidate pools. While these recruits might not have all the skills yet, with the right support, they have the potential to bring immense value to a company.

One way to expand the candidate pool is to recruit people who are changing career paths or industries. As conversation around the “Great Resignation” continues, companies must recognise that there is a growing group of professionals looking to make a change. Across Asia-Pacific, employees in India are more likely to consider a major career change. Other countries in the region also exhibit a similar trend, with 75% of Singaporeans finding new careers for better job security. These applicants may not have IT backgrounds, but they bring new perspectives that can lead to innovation and other benefits for an organisation. Taking the time to reskill and upskill these applicants creates a new pipeline for hiring.

Another common way companies limit their candidate pool is by restricting hiring to those with traditional four-year degrees. Instead, consider offering apprenticeship programmes that build employee expertise from the ground up and help them succeed at the company by providing the appropriate training. At the end of the programme, employers can choose to extend full-time offers. Businesses are prioritising reskilling while they partner with employees to develop new and attractive work environments.

2. Invest in resources 

Companies know that recruiting requires investment. They also know that employees are their biggest asset and the return on this investment is worthwhile. One place to start with filling the mainframe skills gap is the education system. Companies can explore burgeoning relationships with institutions to include these skills in their curriculum, such as teaching students the Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL), a programming language for business applications.

Once these students graduate — hopefully with some foundational mainframe skills — companies need to broadcast messaging that appeals to them. Illustrate why the mainframe is an exciting technology with powerful, mission-critical capabilities.

Also communicate the opportunities for growth — as many professionals in the industry retire, there is the chance to quickly gain responsibility and provide value, resulting in job security and good compensation. Businesses need to advertise these selling points to potential hires to cultivate their interest.

3. Tailor the workplace experience 

Employee churn has high costs, which is why it is important to tailor the workplace experience to this next generation of mainframe professionals to increase retention. This should include proper training, support and benefit offerings to encourage employees to stay with a company. In Southeast Asia, 43% of candidates rank company culture as a top priority when applying for a vacancy. In addition, younger professionals expect flexibility such as remote working or outside of traditional nine-to-five hours. When employees are able to control their time and location, they are increasingly happier and likely to recommend the company as a place to work.

Mainframe managers should also be aware that these professionals are digital natives with new expectations for engaging with technology. Traditional mainframe interfaces with poor user experience may deter them. Organisations will need to modernise their tools with user-friendly graphical interfaces; this way, even non-experts can maintain mainframe operations.

Filling the mainframe skills gap is essential to keeping these mission-critical technologies operating. As mainframes continue to support businesses across industries, successful organisations will be the ones that invest in the best tools and the top talent.

Praveen Kumar is senior vice-president and general manager (Asia-Pacific and Japan) at Rocket, a global software development firm 

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