Skills Shortages Aren't Limited to Mainframes

By Deb Perelman  |  Posted 2007-08-24

Most reports about mainframes and the skill sets required to manage them are dismal, and the problem can be roughly summarized this way: Baby Boomers are about to retire and nobody is learning COBOL and other mainframe skills these days.

Soon it will be impossible for CIOs to keep their systems running on mainframe computers.

Based on this premise—that Baby Boomer mainframe coders and administrators are going to leave the workforce in the next five to seven years—a March 14 Gartner report titled "Impact of Generational IT Skill Shift on Legacy Applications" suggested that this projected decrease in mainframe-skilled individuals might be a reason to migrate to other, more-modern application platforms.

Yet an August 10 rebuttal to this by Clabby Analytics called Gartner's logic "just plain wrong," arguing that the problem of finding individuals with computer skills was not solely a mainframe problem, but a problem across the entire computer industry.

Furthermore, Clabby found it "just plain silly" to migrate from highly-secure and highly-efficient mainframes to other platforms because of a potential skills shortage.

"How bad is this across-the-industry skill set problem? On the day that I visited's Web site, I found 989 mainframe jobs posted. Of these, only 170 of the jobs were COBOL specific. Most of the remaining jobs were administration/management or operations jobs...But these were only a fraction of the number of open requisitions for database administrators, help desk personnel, and hardware engineers," wrote Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics, who found 4,141; 2,445 and 4,667 openings respectively in those three categories.

The report, meanwhile, questions the accepted notion of an imminent mainframe skills shortage on several other points:

  • Though Baby Boomers are expected to reach retirement age 5 to 12 years from now, the retirements will happen in a phased manner and many will work long past the traditional retirement age of 65.
  • Not all mainframe managers are 60 years old: A "second crop" of 35 to 50 year olds are involved in managing mainframe environments today.
  • Mainframes are becoming easier and easier to manage, due to developments by IBM, which is spending $100 million on simplifying mainframe processes.
  • Finally, COBOL-skilled programmers, one of the four groups that constitute mainframe-skilled workers, are easy to find in India, and are available domestically at an inflated price.

It's not that there is no mainframe skills shortage, the report concludes, but shortages of certain skills in certain U.S. and E.U. geographies, something that IBM and other companies are well aware of, and working overtime to address and rectify the problem.

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