Hiring next-gen mainframe developers
January 12, 2017 Workforce

Challenges and Solutions for Hiring Next-Gen Mainframe Developers

We recently hosted a joint webcast called “Building a Millennial Mainframe Powerhouse: 5 Tips to Attract and Retain the Next Generation of Mainframe Development” with our partner Ensono, an infrastructure management services company. If you missed it, you can view the webcast replay.

During the webcast, Compuware Vice President of Development David Rizzo and Ensono Director of Mainframe Services Ken Harper spoke on each company’s experience with hiring Millennials and provided seven tips for attracting, recruiting and retaining next-generation programmers for mainframe development:

  1. Plan early
  2. Look in the right places
  3. Identify characteristics needed for success
  4. Nurture young developers
  5. Cultivate a desirable work environment
  6. Don’t underestimate their capabilities
  7. Recognize generation dynamics

The webcast also featured insights from Compuware software developer Noah Al-Armanazi and Ensono mainframe systems programmer Andrew Meister, both Millennials.

At the end of the webcast, we asked attendees to respond to a survey about the state of their Millennial recruitment. According to the survey, of the 37 respondents roughly 78 percent are experiencing challenges in hiring the next generation of developers for their mainframe environment.

Roughly 54 percent said Millennials account for 10 percent or less of their current development staff. This makes sense, considering roughly 46 percent of respondents wait for Millennials to apply instead of actively recruiting them.

Below are some of the major challenges respondents said they face with recruiting Millennials, what major barriers are keeping Millennials away from mainframe development, and what companies can do to combat these things and improve recruitment.

Challenges with Recruiting Millennials

Many respondents noted the biggest challenge for recruiting Millennials was convincing upper management that mainframes are still viable, and, therefore, as expert mainframe developers retire it’s important to begin recruiting and training a new generation of skilled workers.

There’s plenty of evidence the mainframe is still the most reliable, securable and capable platform available for enterprises, but there are also economic reasons for enterprises to stay on the mainframe, as Dr. Howard Rubin, Founder and CEO of Rubin Worldwide, has made obvious in his “Technology Economics of Mainframe” analyses.

When upper management understands the impact of the mainframe on their company, they should feel more compelled to invest in recruiting the next generation of developers to maintain and advance the platform, rather than avoid it or move off it. But making steps to recruit next-gen developers requires more than gaining internal support.

As one survey respondent noted, convincing Millennials to join the mainframe side of IT is difficult because their company lacks modern technology that appeals to young talent. To solve this, companies need to build a mainframe environment next-gen developers want to work in by providing them with modern tools that are intuitive and easy to use in place of older, outdated tools like the green screen.

Major Barriers for Millennials

While there are internal issues companies must solve to improve their recruiting of next-gen developers for mainframe development, there are also barriers between Millennials and the mainframe that may seem out of a company’s control. In the survey, a few key themes emerged among respondents on major barriers they see.

  • Millennials don’t know about the mainframe.
    While this is less of an issue due to companies and more so do to the number of academic institutions that have ceased teaching mainframe development, there are things companies can do to combat the lack of mainframe awareness.In his blog about generating mainframe awareness, Compuware Vice President of Development David Rizzo says about Compuware’s own recruitment efforts, “Upon realizing how detrimental the scarcity of mainframe development education was, we began hosting regular information sessions on college campuses we had targeted for recruiting the mainframe workforce. Since then, much of our success with hiring next-gen mainframe developers has come from educating students on the powers of the mainframe.”
  • Retaining talent is difficult.
    According to author Jesse Sostrin in an article for Monster, employees “leave because of what communication, leadership, and culture make or do not make in their experience at work.”Compuware recruiter Leigh Ann Ulrey has written that next-gen developers value “employee autonomy, collaboration and feedback.” The same goes for “modern job seekers in general who desire careers providing fulfillment at a deeper level than salary alone.” Clearly, company culture is key to retaining next-gen developers.
  • There’s a lot of knowledge to absorb before tenured employees retire.
    This uncovers the importance of hiring next-gen mainframe developers before your experts retire. As Rizzo says in his blog on filling mainframe jobs at your company, “Plan to fill seats at your company before they’re empty. Don’t hire to replace the person retiring today or next week—that slot should already be filled. Hire to replace the person who’s retiring months from now.”By hiring less-experienced developers years and months ahead of experts retiring, you ensure the next generation of your mainframe workforce has ample time to be mentored and educated in the areas they will eventually take over.

While these weren’t the only issues respondents listed in the survey, a good portion of the feedback landed on these points. For deeper insights into improving your company’s recruitment process, listen to the on-demand replay of “Building a Millennial Mainframe Powerhouse: 5 Tips to Attract and Retain the Next Generation of Mainframe Development.”

Also, consider reading our blog series “Recruiting the Mainframe Workforce” for more tips on hiring next-gen mainframe developers. For more insights from next-gen mainframe developers, check out our “Millennialize the Mainframe” series.