With retirees outnumbering new graduates in many technical disciplines, businesses face a growing challenge in finding and retaining skilled staff to manage and develop mission-critical systems.
IBM Z Skills programs work with non-profits and training partners to provide technical education to under-served communities, transforming career prospects and closing the talent gap for employers.
Helpsbusinesses develop the skilled technical people they need to run vital systems
Empowersmembers of under-represented communities to start interesting and rewarding careers
Cuts the costand time required to find and train staff
Business challenge story
Blue collar to new collar
With thousands of “baby boomers” retiring from the U.S. workforce every day, many enterprises are struggling to find replacement employees with the right skills. The problem is particularly acute for technical roles, as the approximately 50,000 annual graduates from computer-science degree programs are barely enough to satisfy Silicon Valley’s hunger for talent. Add in the far greater demand from enterprises in other sectors – aerospace, automotive, banking, chemicals, energy, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, retail, transportation and more besides – and it’s easy to see why the number of open technical jobs is rapidly outgrowing the number of skilled applicants.
Even where enterprises can access local talent with technical skills, due to the wide range of technologies and programming languages available today, younger generations do not have in depth experience in some of the most critical enterprise areas of IT. Many business-critical systems in the world economy depend on data that resides on the IBM Z platform utilizing both contemporary and traditional programs and languages. If you’re the CEO of a bank, how can you ensure that your enduring IBM Z-based core banking systems you’ve depended on for decades will continue to run smoothly and securely as key employees retire?
Recognizing a common pain felt by big enterprises, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has publicly called for efforts to develop “new-collar workers” – individuals with the technical and soft skills needed to work in "middle-skill" occupations in the contemporary technology industry – through non-traditional education paths. These new-collar workers could fill not only much-needed traditional roles such as operations and SysAdmins, but also emerging roles that require new skills in data science, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
Seeking both to address the needs of the U.S. job market and to help members of under-served communities play a greater role in the economy, IBM set out to achieve its vision of educating new-collar workers both within IBM and also through programs to assist its partners and clients.
Raising skill levels for the knowledge economy
Working with both non-profits and existing mainframe clients, IBM is drawing on the resources of its existing IBM Z Academic Initiative Program to bring Enterprise IT skills into the economy. In Cincinnati, a number of different enterprises needed skilled IBM Z personnel, and had approached the Russell Tobin Recruitment Agency for help. Noticing this trend, and failing to find sufficient talent in the local market, the agency contacted Per Scholas, a non-profit with a mission to open doors to transformative technology careers for people from often overlooked communities. Per Scholas organized a round-table event for local enterprises, and one of the attendees contacted a leader within the IBM Academic Initiative.
IBM offered to provide course materials and to train the Per Scholas teachers in IBM Z-specific skills, and a major national bank present in Cincinnati contributed funding to get the new endeavor off the ground. Together, the partners designed a five-week intensive training program with more than 125 hours of classroom-based technical training. The Per Scholas program also includes soft skills – for example, interview techniques – to help students adapt to the general demands of working in an enterprise.
Applicants for this first free-of-charge course in Cincinnati were screened for aptitude and attitude, and all of the qualifying candidates later successfully qualified with IBM Z skills. During the following three months, all candidates gained employment or had job offers for relevant roles. Candidates came both from non-technical roles in enterprises and from the wider community, including long-term unemployed and those employed in low-paying manual jobs. Per Scholas hopes to bring a second cohort of students into its IBM Z program in 2019.
In a similar program, IBM works with IBM Global Training provider LearnQuest, which is in partnership with non-profit organization LaunchCode. This national organization is based in St Louis and provides free technical education and job readiness programs designed to give people new opportunities to work in technology roles. Like Per Scholas, LaunchCode is able to develop and execute custom training solutions to fit company needs; this particular client example involves a major company in the health management sector. This client company needed a large number of skilled mainframe COBOL programmers for its core IBM Z-based systems, and was having difficulty finding candidates with the right pre-requisite skills. Together, LearnQuest and LaunchCode delivered two educational programs for this client: one a 12-week program on COBOL, and the other a 12-week bootcamp on IBM Z operations.
While LaunchCode ran a customized evaluation and vetting process to find candidates with the required passion, drive and aptitude, LearnQuest designed the customized curriculum, developed the learning road maps, and delivered the training. The selection criteria to get in the program are tough, with only 6 percent of applicants accepted.
Upon successful completion of the training course, applicants began 180-day paid apprenticeships at the client company, with the potential of a job offer at the end. As a result, the company was able to hire more than 20 new full-time employees who are now productively working with COBOL and z/OS.
Serving communities and enterprises
The successful outcome of the partnership between IBM, Per Scholas, employers and the local community provides a number of benefits. First, enterprises in Cincinnati now have a growing pool of local talent available to fill crucial roles to modernize and keep mission-critical mainframe systems up and running. Second, graduates of the program have a life-changing opportunity to access well-paid technical careers for which they were previously unqualified. Third, the local economy benefits because people from historically underserved communities are increasing their earning power, reducing their dependence on state and federal assistance, and contributing more in taxes. There are also less tangible but equally important benefits in terms of the improved confidence and psychological well-being of successful candidates, and in their ability to encourage others in their communities to seek new skills and improve their financial prospects.
The benefits of partnering with LearnQuest and LaunchCode are equally impressive. Like Per Scholas, LaunchCode works with individuals with non-traditional resumes from all walks of life. To date, the non-profit has directly placed more than 1,000 people into apprenticeships with approximately 80 percent converting to full-time employees.
"LaunchCode was founded not only to create economic opportunity for talented individuals, but also to address the shortage of tech talent many companies are experiencing," said Jim McKelvey, LaunchCode's founder and Board President. "Our targeted training initiative goes a step further, creating a streamlined, integrated process to meet employer needs by shaping homegrown talent to fit the exact role they're looking to fill. It's a win for everyone involved."
By bringing skilled new-collar workers to the job market, IBM and its partners are also helping enterprises to find the right employees to bring further success. This cuts the cost and time required to discover and train talent, helping to maintain the pace of growth in the economy overall.
About IBM Academic Initiative
The IBM Academic Initiative program provides professors and students access to the latest technologies in open source and IBM software, hardware, course materials, training, technical support, and other resources.
Faculty members, research professionals, and students at accredited institutions all over the globe can join the IBM Academic Initiative at no cost. There is no limit on the number of members from an institution that can join. To learn more about the IBM Academic Initiative or to join, see ibm.com/university/data.
For more information on how IBM is helping clients to find, attract, train, and retain new mainframe talent visit the IBM Z Skills website.