Compuware expects 40% of today's 2 million Cobol programmers -- a key segment of mainframe programmers -- to retire in the coming years. Rival CA Technologies concurs: "The pioneers of the mainframe are the Baby Boomers," says CA's Semerjian. "Starting this year, the Baby Boomers are going into retirement."
Mainframes need programmers -- who are paid well Programming skills are vital to mainframes' continued use, Vallely notes, not just system skills, which are more available. "These mainframe apps have decades of modifications and complexities built into them" and need experienced programmers to keep running effectively. As a result, those willing to work on mainframes earn more than if they work with other platforms, he says.
Mainframes have relied on Cobol and assembler as their programming languages. But these days, not a lot of people are teaching these languages or mainframe management, Semerjian says. Meanwhile, today's university students are preoccupied with learning newer technologies such as .Net and Java. "Despite the fact that [mainframe] apps are core to so many large businesses, to newer programmers there's not as much sizzle in learning mainframe programming," Vallely says.
Vendors addressing the mainframe skills gap Despite this looming gap, only recently have universities and companies placed an emphasis on developing mainframe skills, Vallely says.
CA, Compuware, and IBM all are seeking to address the skills gap with educational programs and/or tools. For example, CA's mainframe management product, CA Mainframe Chorus, features a graphical interface and knowledge capture intended to modernize the mainframe experience to appeal to today's programmers and require less upfront knowledge.
Compuware helps customers with their internal training programs and offers a staffing service. It also provides tools such as Xpediter for debugging and analyzing mainframe applications, as well as File-Aid for file and data management and data analysis.
IBM's Academic Initiative for System Z mainframes enables schools to teach System Z and assists with skills development, to create a pool of mainframe programmers and systems engineers for its customers.