Building the workforce for the cognitive era

Mainframes are the core infrastructure system for many of the world’s leading businesses, including 92 of the top 100 global banks, the 10 top insurers and 18 of the top 25 retailers. Given the importance of these systems to their businesses, clients often ask what IBM is doing to help ensure a strong pipeline of mainframe skills.

We’re doing a lot – and we’re not doing it alone. With a community of business and academic leaders, IBM recently launched a new technology apprenticeship program that is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. The program is starting with three new apprenticeship roles in software development, mainframe system administration and project management.

There are currently more than 500,000 open jobs in the U.S. technology industry alone. The Registered Apprenticeship program builds on IBM’s efforts to address America’s high-tech skills gap, and follows the success of our Academic Initiative program, our P-TECH educational model and our expanded partnerships with U.S. community colleges, as well as our efforts to train and hire veterans of America’s armed forces.

Registered Apprenticeship programs are designed to create job opportunities in areas requiring skilled workers. They can be especially helpful in preparing workers for new collar technology jobs that do not always require a bachelor’s degree – and they allow participants to earn while they learn. Upon successful completion of the program, apprentices receive a nationally recognized credential indicating that they are qualified to work in their field. By registering these apprenticeships with the Department of Labor, we’re providing a model that can be scaled across the United States.

The first U.S. mainframe apprentices will begin onboarding by the end of this year. We expect the overall IBM program to grow to include 100 apprentices by next year. We are also partnering with local industry and universities in the U.K. to develop and expand Mainframe Apprenticeship Degree programs. Barclays initiated the degree program and hired its first cohort of 20 mainframe apprentices earlier this year. While these programs are being implemented initially in the U.K. and the U.S., content and assets will be made available to employers globally to create similar programs. In addition, a virtual skills incubator program will allow apprentices and pre-apprentices to gain the foundational skills needed for a mainframe system administrator.

Fostering the community

We have made accessing mainframe technology easy for developers through the LinuxONE Community Cloud and the IBM Z Trial Program. These programs allow developers to quickly learn how to explore applications, expose APIs, bring analytics closer to the data and develop applications using open source technologies such as blockchain – with no need for unique IBM Z skills. Code Patterns provide developers with easy-to-follow tutorials, GitHub repositories, blogs and cloud access to the latest mainframe technology to gain hands-on experience.

Through the recent AngelHack “Unchain the Frame” contest, 1,400 application developers from around the world participated in a virtual hackathon using these Code Patterns to innovate with the latest technologies including blockchain, open source technology and machine learning, as well as with retail and financial industry APIs on IBM Z.  Congratulations to the winning teams who used these technologies to create innovative transportation, healthcare and retail solutions!

Building mainframe skills

In addition, we’re collaborating with students, educators and businesses around the world to help the next generation of experts leverage the security, availability, scalability and efficiency of the mainframe. We established the IBM Z Academic Initiative more than a decade ago to help schools teach mainframe skills, including z/OS, COBOL, IMS, Assembler and Db2. We’ve worked with more than 1,400 schools in 70 countries, reaching more than 180,000 students.

One facet of the Academic Initiative is the popular Master the Mainframe competition, which has been run in 100-plus countries, reaching more than 90,000 students. Last year’s contest attracted more than 10,000 high school and college students, with the competition culminating in the World Championships in San Francisco. The competition requires no prior programming experience and has resulted in job opportunities for participating students. This year’s contest is open for student registrations.

The Master the Mainframe contest system is also available as a learning platform open to the public. We collaborated with Hasso-Plattner Institute, Interskill Learning and the Linux Foundation to offer free online courses on enterprise computing, making it easier than ever to gain mainframe skills.

Driving innovation in IT

IBM is partnering with the University of Arkansas and industry leaders including Walmart, Tyson’s, ArcBest and J.B. Hunt to establish an Enterprise Computing Blockchain Consortium, with a focus on the retail and supply chain. Through student projects, courses, hackathons and other activities, the consortium has begun driving collaborative industry/university research, promoting and enabling knowledge dissemination, and helping accelerate industry adoption of these technologies.

Through these and many other programs, we’re seeing a growing number of the “New Faces of IBM Z.” From veteran programmers to new web developers, see their stories here.

Learn more about the IBM Z Academic Initiative and the IBM Z portfolio.