What does a good IT Skills strategy look like?

Jackie Anglin from Micro Focus reflects on a recent SHARE.org IT Skills webinar. In part 2 of this series Lonnie Emard – IT-ology President and David Rhoderick, Manager of IBM z Systems Competitive Project Office share their thoughts on what they heard.

My last blog recapped a Micro Focus IT Skills webinar, during which invited industry experts joined the Micro Focus team to debate the IT Skills issue. Here, Lonnie EmardIT-ology President and David Rhoderick, Manager of IBM z Systems Competitive Project Office, offer their thoughts on the discussion.

So, David and Lonnie, how does an organization build an appropriately skilled workforce?

David“Look for people who can really make a long-term difference to the company – and think about who’s leaving in the next five years. That equates to about 10,000 hours, or the amount of time it takes to become expert in a particular skill. Also, look at the way tools are evolving. We don’t need green-screen programmers – we need people who can understand which tools to use for the right job and then use them effectively.”

Lonnie – “At Blue Cross – BCBS of South Carolina is a big partner of IBM and Micro Focus – we realized that an organization who would do the right things to create talent acquisition development and retention programs around COBOL and around mainframe, around enterprise systems, is that in the future we couldn’t solve this problem by ourselves. 

The Blue Cross model is about creating the strategy that Derek mentioned, understanding what you’re about and appreciating your skills and talents. Certainly, most of the large companies still running enterprise systems and IBM servers must pass down a set of knowledge and skills for repurposing as a ‘master and apprentice’ model. That worked tremendously well for us. At the same time, what we do internally has to be complemented with greater external access and reach.”

To the second question: “How does technology play its part in the IT skills challenge?”

David“The mainframe is evolving in parallel with the wider business picture: mobile technology, Internet of Things, new workloads that mesh with the mainframe. We at IBM are active in connecting new technologies to the backend. People find new technologies like JSON easy to do. We’ve had web services, we’ve had XML, all of these newer, open standard capabilities. It should be easy for someone familiar with this style of programming to work with a mainframe. And clearly there are very strong, sophisticated DevOps tools.” 

Lonnie – “When technology is this expansive it can become confusing and complex. Everybody wants a ‘one size fits all’ answer to every technology solution in every industry and that’s just not realistic. So part of what we’re doing is to change the message out in the community.  An example is cutting a COBOL videoto prove young people are not thinking, “Hey, [I] don’t want to work in that environment!”

“I understand what we’re trying to accomplish with IT. That’s our goal. I’s not about having a computer science degree, but being applied in all facets of the business. Now you’ve got somebody who’s legitimately impactful in their work. That’s the kind of skills challenge I think we’re seeing. The answer is to put that interdisciplinary piece together.” 

COBOLLin

The last question focused on the long term solution. Derek asked “Doesn’t the skills issue highlight the gap between skills being taught in schools and those demanded in the commercial world?”

David“Well I think, first of all, the solution is a long-term view of your IT strategy. Clearly a long-term mainframe strategy is crucial for any company – – banks, insurance companies, whoever – still anticipating huge, growing volumes of transactions and queries with the need to be increasingly responsive and agile. 

My advice is to have a long-term strategy for hiring, and to work with universities.  As Lonnie said, it is crucial that the people consuming the skills are brokering and collaborating with the sector producing them, along with parties like IBM who try to make it all happen.”

Lonnie“That has been the magic behind the collaboration of ITology – companies must understand where they’re headed and what that means in terms of an alignment of skills.  We’ve found a resonance that almost every job has a technology underpinning. The messages we talked about earlier are key to this whole thing in terms of a long-term solution.”

In summary

It was a terrific to get such valuable insights from industry experts. Do you agree with their comments?  To listen to the full webinar, go here.  For more information on the Enterprise skills question, visit our page.

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