By Sue Bushell
While most of the IT professionals with mainframe skills contemplate their well-earned retirement, some canny youngsters are well positioned to fill the void, and the Department of Defence (DoD) is glad of it.
IBM Australia says it has seen a surge of applications from young IT professionals actively chasing IT careers in the mainframe environment.
In a direct rebuke to all the pundits who have declared the mainframe dead over the years, 10 DoD trainees are part of a group of 50 currently enrolled in an IT degree program that has been developed jointly by Global Online Learning and Griffith University to produce IT professionals working in the IBM zSeries environment. With a focus on practical skills, these IT students are getting paid, on-the-job experience working with the DoD, National Australian Bank, Health Insurance Commission and other Australian mainframe users.
A DoD spokesman says the recruitment program has been extremely successful in recruiting personnel with IT mainframe skills, where there had been a shortfall.
"This program has been beneficial for recruiting personnel to the mainframe environment, particularly the Defence Computing Bureau (DCB). Graduating students will have received formal training in a commercial environment and have a depth of relevant work experience.
"Additionally, the benefits of recruiting staff who have already completed a year of study mean that the students can be effective in the workplace from the early days of their commencement."
The first summer school took place in early December 02, with students arriving at the workplace in March 2003.
"The mainframe has a certain and strategic future in Australian business," says IBM zSeries business unit executive Robyn Woodley. "Just look at the investments that our clients and business partners are making to ensure the mainframes powering their businesses are well supported. Mainframes will deliver business value for a long time to come, and IBM will continue to help the zSeries community get the most out of their mainframe investments. This includes ensuring there is a consistent flow of new mainframe talent for the marketplace."
Global Online Learning MD Murray Woods says the students see the value in a career where there is going to be a definite scarcity of skills over the next decade and are very enthusiastic about going into mainframe technology for a career.
"Centrelink, HIC, Defence, ASIO all have the main mainframe installations as well as Customs. DIMIA is in there too. Now they are all experiencing the same problem which is the retirement age for most of their mainframe skills is coming up pretty rapidly . . . so in the next 10 years or so there is going to be a large number of people required. And the universities aren't producing graduates with mainframe skills. The universities are only producing people with UNIX and client/server skills. Our entire degree program is focused entirely on the mainframe."
The trainees are likely to be needed for years to come, agrees Griffith Uni Prof Estivill-Castro because most students coming out of graduate programs in Australia have zero exposure to mainframes. "For example most people expect to use a mouse to operate a computer and in a mainframe environment you won't, so many IT graduates across Australia find it a very cumbersome or a very unfamiliar environment to work in."
Estivill-Castro says the industry in general is finding it very hard to find skilful new graduates to replace those with mainframe experience in areas like government and the communications industry.
Meanwhile DoD graduate programmer and trainee Russell Adcock says he believes there is a huge market for mainframe skills and he is confident of being in demand for many years to come.
"The course is a unique degree that provides unique experience that is not really offered by people in present-day IT courses," he says.
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