Banks Seek Young Mainframe Talent to Overcome Skills Shortage

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Banks have a message for recent grads with IT degrees: We want you—if you have mainframe skills.

The mainframe skills shortage is hitting financial services particularly hard, since 92 of the top 100 banks rely on System z for their core functions, according to a recent American Banker article.

As mainframe programmers retire, banks are having a tough time recruiting replacement talent with the right background who also want to work in a bank. But banks, with the help of some IT industry initiatives, are working to foster young talent and entice them into the fold.

"It's really hard to get new graduates interested in those old technologies," First Horizon National Corp. CIO Bruce Livesay told American Banker. In some cases, banks only have one or two employees who fully understand how the technology functions.

Both banks and the mainframe struggle with an image problem, as well, the article said. While the mainframe continues to thrive, despite the myth of its demise, banks continue to suffer from the aftereffects of the financial crisis, the article said.

"I don't think you can compete with Google, Twitter or Facebook on the coolness factor. It's just not doable," First Niagara Financial Group CEO Inder Koul told American Banker. "It would be difficult for me to try to be a Google because I cannot match that."

The need for talent, however, is good news for recent grads with mainframe skills. Banks, eager to recruit and retain them, are working to increase the appeal of their environment.

Koul said that First Niagara has taken several steps to up its appeal, including a commitment to spend $250 million over the next few years on new technologies. It’s also working to clarify the connection between IT and the bank’s larger business strategy.

"That makes it much easier for the rank-and-file tech talent to see how their work impacts others," Koul told American Banker.

External programs also aim to boost young programmers’ interest in System z while bolstering their skills. The article notes that IBM’s Master the Mainframe contest has attracted more than 68,000 high school and college-age students worldwide to compete in real-world coding challenges and prepare them for enterprise IT careers.

SHARE’s zNextGen community offers peer-to-peer learning as well as technical skill training for young mainframe professionals. Among the many zNExtGen offerings, members can take advantage of online courses from Marist College and Interskill to enhance their skills and prepare them for a long career on the mainframe.

While the collaborative environment helps emerging IT professionals connect and network with one another, zNextGen’s mentorship program also pairs them with mainframe veterans so they can learn how to carve out a successful career.

The overall IT job market is a bit stagnant, according to a recent report by Janco Associates, with growth happening in just a few select areas. But college students preparing to enter the job market with mainframe skills will find themselves at an advantage. Mainframe shops are eager to hire emerging talent, so a background in System z will make young enterprise IT professionals even more marketable.

So although job creation in other IT fields might be slow, banks have their “help wanted” signs out for mainframe pros.

Read the full article at American Banker.

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