Skills Crisis? Fix your IT Strategy!

Welcome to Utopia!

It’s hard to imagine a world where each organization has exactly the right number of skilled individuals doing their jobs. It’s harder still, even in that utopian situation, to imagine that it would ever stay the same: after all, technology changes, people change, organizations change.

While it’s not breaking news, IT skills remain a significant question mark. Little wonder the topic featured on the agenda again at the recent Enterprise IT industry event, SHARE, in Sacramento California.

Seismic Shifts

My utopian dream of fully-staffed, well-skilled, settled IT doesn’t exist in reality. Change is upon us, and IT is no different.

Such changes are casting a long shadow over Enterprise IT, as it struggles to ensure that talent, technology and infrastructure are in place to support their digital transformation objectives. If you read the prophecies for 2018 and beyond, digital transformation will take many forms. SDTimes’ top 10 includes DevOps, smarter apps, cross functional teams and dealing with renewed security threats. Meanwhile in an Information Age article the trending topics include security, Cloud and IT flexibility.

Further studies indicate significant growth in demand for DevOps, security and data science professionals.

Micro Focus’ own studies indicate over 55% of IT budget is earmarked for digital initiatives. Another way of saying is over half of all IT is changing, right now, and that there a lot of areas that need attention.

A singular problem

And with so much change, changing the talent pool to align to that is anything but straightforward. According to statistics from the US Dept. of Labor, in 2020 and there will be enough US computing graduates to fill just 29% of available jobs.

And the single biggest problem? That was the question posed in a SHARE/IBM Systems Magazine survey, when asking about the causes of the skills problem. 47% of respondents said the biggest challenge was “finding access to qualified personnel”. Simply put, “you can’t get the staff”. Worryingly, this situation is sometimes true for systems that are tried and trusted and continue to run the business – mainframe and COBOL systems.

Time to Get Smarter

If change is inevitable that’s especially true for technology. So being positive and responsive to that change is critical. Commentators are starting to realise that having the right vision for the future and the right attitude to skills is critical for future success. And of the best CIOs, the majority are focused on developing skills. The digital world demands it. A flexible supply of skills is crucial.

IT Skills is seen as a “top 3 priority”, according to an IBM study. Micro Focus agrees, of course. Our own study shows a significant appreciation of the skills question, and a significant effort to resolve it. 63% of respondents said knowledge transfer of key IT skills was critical to future planning.

Reality Check

If core systems skills remain so vital, but funding and resources are hard to find, what can be done?

Changing the workforce dynamically to support ever changing technology needs is an ongoing challenge – but one which many have met. They have found a way to manage their “digital diversity” of skills needs, while ensuring enough staff can still maintain the core systems of record. In the area of meeting demand for COBOL talent, for example, we’ve heard of recent situations where, using Micro Focus technology:

– A technology intern has self-taught in COBOL on a 6 hour train ride
– An outsourcer cross-trained all their C# team to learn COBOL too
– Algonquin community college has introduced a COBOL training course on the syllabus to support local employer demand
– Dozens more have already downloaded a free ebook to learn modern COBOL

In each case it was a combination of motivation (a skills challenge that needed fixing), attitude and technology – vital ingredients in skills transfer.

COBOL remains one of the few programming languages that have retained a top 50 popularity according to the TIOBE index for the four decades it has been measuring technology usage. Interestingly COBOL has seen a steady resurgence since 2011. The same Micro Focus study indicated nearly half of all those surveyed no longer saw COBOL skills as a primary concern. No longer primary perhaps, but possibly because they have already taken the time to plan and execute an appropriate skills strategy. [The highlights of this study are here].

Added to this the positive response to IBMs new Z14 mainframe, it is little wonder that the recent press around the mainframe and COBOL world has taken on a more positive hue. Recent headlines on the topic –

– Why the mainframe is still going strong
– Mainframes for a New Generation: Same Taste, New Can
– Improved Revenue Trajectory for IBM No Surprise
– COBOL can make you bank, literally

Roll Your Sleeves Up

A strategic skills vision hinges on talent and training: hiring smart people who could, and then training them so they can. It was no surprise to micro Focus to see such a busy class at the SHARE Academy event – where the Modern Mainframe Programming using COBOL Course took place. The next generation of enterprise COBOL technologists helping support the digital economy through enhanced systems of record.

We firmly believe that a combination of attitude, motivation and supporting development and analysis technology is the key to overcoming any skills concern. Many have already done just that. Micro Focus’ Academic Program is available to organizations, academia and students alike.

The topic of IT skills looks out at an ever-changing technological horizon. Planning for change is a cornerstone of that strategy. Another cornerstone seems to be the fundamental constants of COBOL and mainframe talent.

 

 

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