FOR years, businesses that use mainframe technology have been seeing their seasoned professionals retire. Now, companies are struggling to find new talent to fill a skills vacuum. When they do, it is difficult to properly train candidates in the absence of guidance from experienced resource persons.

According to Coursera's Global Skills Report, the Philippines is an emerging power in terms of technical skills in the creation, maintenance, and scaling of computer systems and software. In an online chat with The Manila Times, Praveen Kumar, senior vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific at Rocket Software explains the relevance of mainframes today, the emerging tech talent gap in mainframe and what companies could do to fill the vacuum.

The Manila Times: (TMT): What is mainframe and what is its relevance today? What are its uses that still make a major impact?

Praveen Kumar (PrK): Mainframes are large machines that are essential in conducting multiple business-critical operations with high performance and security. They also allow customers and clients to interact and perform digital transactions with your organization, whether it is buying concert tickets or using an ATM.

With the rise of the cloud and businesses fixated on digital transformation, many wonder where the mainframe fits into modern and digitized operations. According to a recent survey from Rocket Software, 80 percent of professional IT firms report that the mainframe remains a critical tool in business operations. There is no denying that mainframes are still important to enterprises which use them because of their powerful capacity and security, but businesses should modernize their mainframe technology to keep up with today's digital innovation.

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TMT: What misconceptions about mainframe persist to this day that might be adversely affecting the career choices of young IT professionals? Do we really need young blood for the mainframe to continue to become part of the computing landscape?

PrK: Let me assure you that mainframe technology is not going away anytime soon. However, many IT professionals hold the misconception that it is outdated which deters many new hires. This causes a generational gap as seasoned employees retire, and new talents become increasingly difficult to find. In reality, mainframe workloads are increasing as they facilitate the bulk data processing required in industries from finance to health care.

Filling the generational gap is important for enterprises to keep mission-critical operations running smoothly. The problem is enterprises tend to focus on people with the same talents and skill sets as the expert-level professionals who are retiring. Instead, companies should expand their pool of candidates to include people who do not have the same expert credentials right now but have ample potential.

TMT: Is it even possible that a deterrence is that one needs a master's degree in IT to go into mainframe?

PrK: Mastering the use of a mainframe does not require a college degree. Businesses should instead invest significant resources in educational programs to train emerging professionals. Today, mainframe education and training are more often than not absent from university curriculum, leaving IT recruits unequipped and out-of-reach.

Besides investing in education, public perception of mainframes is also another key factor in getting IT professionals to be involved in mainframe. During recruiting, enterprises could communicate the opportunities for growth available in the mainframe space and that those who excel would certainly receive high compensation and job security.

TMT: Is the coming shortage of talent in mainframe operation a cause of concern in the computing industry in general and in the pace of digital transformation around the world?

PrK: Digitization has led to organizations having to search for new tech talents to help operate their infrastructure. The struggle to find new talent is also compounded by other factors such as an aging workforce, the ongoing pandemic, and the era of the Great Reshuffle. For computing industries, this could lead to slower digital transformation as industries hold back on adopting new technologies that could have made operations more efficient and secure for the digital era.

TMT: What is Rocket Software's business and what is its interest in talent shortage in mainframe?

PrK: Since 1990, Rocket Software has always been developing solutions to help businesses run critical infrastructure and business processes. Through our partnership with IBM, we have created mainframe innovations that help businesses maximize their return on investment (ROI). This includes helping new tech talents use the technology effectively without having to undergo months of training to learn new skills. With Rocket's support for Open Source Languages and Tools for z/OS, these developers would be equipped with a comprehensive package that would help them start out on their mainframe journey immediately.

Rocket Software is a global technology leader that develops enterprise software for some of the world's largest companies.