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How legacy technology is creating the next skills gap

Sharon Florentine | Aug. 12, 2015
Many IT pros with skills in Cobol and mainframes will be aging out of the workplace in the near future. How can CIOs address the inevitable skills shortage?

Education and integration

It doesn't have to be difficult, especially since companies like Compuware and application modernization and management firm Micro Focus have introduced tools that allow for the integration of distributed application IDEs and APIs with legacy solutions like mainframe, COBOL, Borland and others.

"We are introducing solutions that make mainframe tech more normalized and accessible to the new generation of developers; that's based on open systems and distributed application development tools like Eclipse. You now can build apps in Java and C++ on the mainframe to supplement what's written in COBOL or other languages, so customers can easily add modernized toolsets to what's already there," O'Malley says.

Some computer science programs at schools like Marist College and the University of Michigan are working closely with enterprises in their geographic area to tailor coursework so that, when computer science students graduate, they have the needed skills and opportunities for jobs in the field, adds O'Malley.

These initiatives are absolutely necessary if CIOs are to stem the tide of promising talent to companies like Apple, Google, or flashy Silicon Valley start-ups. "What we've done to counter this is introduce a start-up-like environment within the larger company so that our developers are working on fun, innovative projects that are still critical work for our customers," he says.

If you build it, they will come (but only if you market it)

Education and training can go only so far; large enterprises with foundations in legacy technology must do a better job marketing and promoting these technologies and skills to the next generation of developers, too. "You can both focus on how your firm uses modern languages and technologies like Java, Python, .Net, big data, the cloud and others and tie that into how those wouldn't be possible without the legacy foundation of older technologies," says Ed Airey, product marketing director, COBOL and RUMBA portfolios, Micro Focus.

When crafting job descriptions, Web copy or information packets for job fairs or careers sites, it's important to stress how dependent some of these current, hot technologies are on older, foundational infrastructure. "It's about shaping the message around the value in working with these older technologies.

At the same time companies themselves must better embrace next-gen technology. If you're innovating in cloud and mobile tech on top of legacy infrastructure, for instance, you'll be able to attract new talent that will gain experience on legacy enterprise computing. That's huge value," Airey says.

Show me the money

Of course, a shortage of skills and steady demand means developers can command premium salaries, even as a freshly minted graduate. "We've heard from universities that they've easily been able to place their students in businesses with that need, and at salaries well above the industry average," says Airey.


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