5 Reasons the Future is Bright for Mainframe Learners

June 6, 2024

We’ve all heard the saying “if it ain't broken, don’t fix it”. While this rings true in the practical sense, it also is a direct reflection of the dynamic some organizations are finding themselves in regarding internal mainframe talent. Commonly, the emphasis pivots to technology and processes when considering site reliability. However, resource reliability is a commonly overlooked third component. When experienced mainframe talent is in place, the temptation to click the cruise control button looms. But organizations must consider the following questions on an ongoing basis:

  • How are we planning ahead for the future of their mainframe workforce?
  • How are new-to-mainframe learners preparing their skill sets to fill gaps left by experienced workers?

Insight into these questions and many others were explored in a recent survey, Mainframe Talent Landscape: Global Hiring Trends in Operations and Development. Follow along as I highlight my personal top 5 insights from the survey results.


1- Future mainframe hiring plans are aggressive

Organizations are ramping up their mainframe hiring plans. Data indicates a significant uptick in recruitment efforts, with 71% of companies actively developing succession plans in anticipation of retiring talent. At large, 91% of organizations surveyed indicated they anticipate hiring either mainframe system administrators or mainframe app developers within the next two years. This surge in planning and hiring activity reinforces a broader recognition of the pivotal role of the mainframe in modern, secure IT infrastructure.

These findings also align directly with the positive hiring trends I’m seeing. In partnership with Broadcom, customers build and nurture mainframe talent with initiatives such as the Vitality Program and training within their organizations to reinforce their digital foundations and build lasting workforce resiliency.


2- Skills specialization has little to do with difficulty filling roles

Contrary to common narratives, skills gaps within the IT industry aren't confined to a single niche; it's a universal challenge that spans across many IT verticals. While certain IT skill sets do have more specificity than others, survey data shows that the perception of difficulty in finding skilled talent for IT roles is strikingly similar across verticals. This summary of responding organizations states that sourcing the respective IT skills is Very Easy or Easy.

  • Mainframe: 74% | Cybersecurity: 79% | Cloud: 75% | Data Science: 72% | AI: 62%

So with nearly 75% of organizations perceiving Mainframe skills as “Easy to locate”, the question remains: What drives the perception? In my view, it is a result of increased awareness of the positive impact of today’s mainframe due to open architecture and development modernization along with deepened investments in mainframe education which are filtering into university settings.


3- Skills specificity should be considered

While the skills required for mainframe roles are well-defined—ranging from proficiency in CICS and COBOL to Java (which also happen to be the top 3 in-demand skills, according to the survey)—a distinct disconnect seems to exist between available skills and the needed skills within organizations. Consider that training for any category of mainframe skills exists today– but candidates and employers may not be privy to the needs of the greater organization. And although CICS was a top-identified in-demand mainframe skill, just 22% of students report learning CICS in their university setting, while 73% report learning COBOL and Java.

Over 60% of the university-based respondents note a noticeable increase in the availability of skilled mainframe talent. Meanwhile, a staggering 73% of organizations cite the lack of qualified candidates as the foremost obstacle in recruiting new talent for mainframe roles. This gap between demand and supply underscores the urgent need for targeted upskilling initiatives to bridge the divide.


4- Mentorship leads in learning effectiveness

The survey also sheds light on prevailing learning methods, highlighting a growing inclination towards online and virtual modalities, with 81% of organizations leveraging third-party learning platforms. This modeling aligns directly with what we are observing at Broadcom, where we’ve witnessed a 40% year-over-year increase in consumption of our online product training over the last three years.

Things get more interesting when a line is drawn in the survey data to distinguish learning modality and learning effectiveness. The most effective learning method noted by organizations is mentorship and coaching (46% of orgs).

I couldn’t agree more with the effectiveness of the mentorship approach. As a cornerstone of Broadcom’s Vitality Residency Program, mentorship creates a lasting trust and relationship that opens the door to a more fluid learning process. Every Vitality Resident is assigned a customer and Broadcom mentor to provide ongoing support assistance in skill development, operational guidance at the customer location to learn the customer’s environment, the infrastructure and to understand the customer’s application and business needs.


5- Learners are eager to start mainframe careers

With the correct level of organizational focus on nurturing talent, the future of the mainframe workforce is bright. According to the survey:

  • 83% of students are interested in learning mainframe skills within their universities
  • 75% of students interested in mainframe would like to specialize in a niche area of the field
  • Over 50% of the students interested in mainframe have already progressed to a stage of applying for mainframe internships and full time roles

We see the same level of passion in students participating in our Vitality Program, as demand has progressed to the point of running two student cohorts per year, for example. Students are thrilled to work on the technology that runs today’s economy and view the mainframe as an exciting career path.


Investing in Mainframe Skills

Amidst reports of significant hiring plans and escalating skills demand, the urgency to bolster mainframe education initiatives cannot be overstated. Organizations must proactively focus on investing in skills programs and resources to future-proof their talent pipelines and mitigate the risks associated with departing expertise. The great news is that anyone can pitch in to bolster the mainframe ecosystem with initiatives such as Mainframe Open Education, which contains open-source mainframe education and mentorship for those seeking mainframe skills.

At Broadcom, we're here to help organizations address their mainframe skills needs with a range of offerings tailored to customer needs, regardless of current skill level. The time to act on building mainframe workforce resilience is now; and the future hinges on nurturing and empowering the next generation of mainframe talent.