Career Watch: Taking aim at young mainframers

Q&A: Kristine Harper

The leader of zNextGen, an offshoot of the IBM user group Share, discusses its efforts to recruit and retain young professionals for careers in enterprise IT.

Why do young people currently entering the enterprise workforce need a user group of their own? As a young female working on the mainframe, I have found that there are very few opportunities to network and socialize with peers in the business because of the age difference. I think the chance to network, communicate and socialize for educational and professional reasons is very appealing for the zNextGen mainframers out there. When a new enterprise computing professional enters this workforce, it is encouraging to have this support group to share their own experiences with, and to learn from others' experiences as well. It can be overwhelming to dive into a mainframe career, so building up a support system that includes mentors, friends and resources is very important.

Can a group like zNextGen really help attract the younger generation to IT? Sometimes it's hard to remember that zNextGen began "simply" as a project of Share. We still are. However, the impact of zNextGen has reached beyond the Share spectrum. I wouldn't say that zNextGen necessarily has the power to influence one's career decisions. However, once that decision has been made, zNextGen certainly can be a new mainframer's guide to networking, communication and educational outlets. Knowing that there is a whole group of new mainframe professionals out there like you can be very encouraging.

How does it go about doing that specifically? Despite what some people may think, my generation does have ambition and the desire to face challenges. I find that many of us new mainframers have this inner drive and desire to learn something new every day, to figure things out. As my generation discovers this career path, they get excited about finding a career that satisfies and feeds their desire to learn and excel. Granted, it's not for everyone, but I think that is certainly one thing that makes this career appealing -- the fact that it is not a stagnant line of work. There is always something new to learn, and you are constantly being challenged to grow.

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Enterprise computing technology will never reach a plateau. In this economy, as much as people may want jobs, even more so, they want careers -- challenging and rewarding careers that bring home a good salary from Day One.

Discontent Rife in the Workplace

In a recent survey, 51% of 1,006 workers polled reported that they feel stagnant in their jobs. The following statistics illuminate their discontent.

Stagnant Workers Feel Stuck

In contrast to the respondents who described themselves as stagnated (whose responses are shown below), 26% of those who said they're content in their jobs said they are being asked to take on exciting new challenges, and only 9% said they want to find a new job.

What best describes your situation? (Responses of those who said they feel stagnant.)

* No room to advance: 32%

* Want to leave but economy prevents it: 26%

* Being asked to do more: 15%

* Job function changed: 8%

* No opportunity for development or training: 7%

* Boss is blocking advancement: 4%

* Being asked to take on new, exciting challenges: 3%

* Role dialed back: 3%

* Mandatory leave: 2%

They Are Bored and Doing Time

More than half (53%) of self-described contented workers said they are interested in what they do, and only 20% of them said, "I just do my job and go home." But very few stagnant workers are like Wally in "Dilbert," trying to get by with as little effort as possible.

What phrase best describes your attitude about your job?

* I just do my job and go home: 46%

* Interested in what I do: 29%

* Wish I could do more/had more responsibility: 16%

* I do what is expected of me but no more: 7%

* Excited to go to work: 6%

* Try to get by with as little effort as possible: 3%

Note: Multiple responses allowed.

They Don't Plan to Stick Around

As a result of feeling that your career is stagnant, which of the following are you more likely to do?

* Look for another job when the economy improves: 44%

* Do what I'm told, nothing more, nothing less: 19%

* Go back to school: 13%

* Other: 9%

* Network with others (within and outside of my organization): 7%

* Ask for additional development or assignments: 7%

* Find a mentor: 1%

Source: Development Dimensions International's summer 2009 "Pulse of the Workforce" survey of 1,006 individual contributors in the U.S.

This story, "Career Watch: Taking aim at young mainframers" was originally published by Computerworld.

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