Q&A: How The Mainframe Academy is Educating Tomorrow’s IT Pros

A certification program backed by CA Technologies may help supply IT’s next generation of trained professionals.

Where will enterprises find tomorrow’s IT professionals? One source you may not be familiar with is the The Mainframe Academy with CA Technologies (The Mainframe Academy for short), which is owned by CA Technologies and is a part of the company’s larger education group. At the end of the program, students can add Certified Mainframe Professional to their résumé, a certification the company says is recognized by businesses as well as the technical community. We spoke to Mark Combs, distinguished senior vice president, mainframe at CA Technologies, about the program.

Enterprise Strategies: What is the problem Mainframe Academy is trying to solve?

Mark Combs: The mainframe continues to play a critical role in today’s increasingly complex IT environments that include distributed, virtualized, and cloud components. Yet, one of the biggest issues the industry faces is the dwindling mainframe workforce, comprised predominantly by baby boomers -- the majority of whom are nearing retirement -- leaving a shortage of qualified and talented next-generation mainframers. In addition, in-house training efforts are not keeping pace with hardware/software advances.

The Mainframe Academy with CA Technologies is working to proactively address these issues by helping some of the best young talent get a jump-start on their IT career and sustain those critical skills.

What is the Mainframe Academy, exactly? A physical school? An online training program?

The Mainframe Academy with CA Technologies is a combination of virtual online and in-classroom training programs and is a vendor-agnostic curriculum of core mainframe programming skills designed to accelerate learning and technical achievement via real world scenarios and specialized courses.

Specifically, it includes over 220 hours of training, 26 mastery tests, and three certification exams all focused on a targeted spectrum of mainframe processing, programming concepts, and applications.

Upon graduation, those who complete the program return to the office with practical skills that they can immediately apply to the business.

What are some of the courses or topics the Academy covers, and where do your instructors come from?

The Mainframe Academy with CA Technologies is an international program. Courses are taught by CA Technologies instructors at CA education centers around the globe. The international reach of this program ensures that global organizations can alleviate workforce skills issues.

Furthermore, the Mainframe Academy delivers rigorous technical course content. Some courses it offers include:

  • Introduction to the IBM enterprise environment
  • Introduction to the z/OS environment
  • TSO/ISPF for z/OS
  • Job Control
  • REXX scripting skills

How long does it take to complete the program and how much does it cost?

The program curriculum takes approximately eight weeks to complete and costs $20,000 to attend. To help attendees manage the associated fee; in March of last year CA Technologies launched the Mainframe Academy Scholarship program that promises to award applicants over $1 million in grants to attend the Mainframe Academy through 2016. Recently, we actually announced the first five recipients of the scholarship, which is intended to cover the complete cost of those attending the Mainframe Academy.

Is there such a thing as a profile of the "typical" student, or given that this is a global program, are the students radically different?

While our experience has shown that a majority of students enrolled in Mainframe Academy are recent computer science graduates and experienced information system programmers, there is really no set profile for the “typical” student. The Mainframe Academy is open to anyone who wishes to advance their mainframe skills. However, for the Mainframe Academy Scholarship, only young IT professionals enrolled in high school, undergraduate, and graduate university programs, or recent graduates with fewer than 2 years of mainframe experience are eligible for the scholarship.

How does the Mainframe Academy measure success?

The Mainframe Academy is a certification program that is third-party validated, and at the end of the program, students earn the distinction of Certified Mainframe Professional by CA Technologies, which is recognizable within businesses and the technical community. Most of the students enrolled in Mainframe Academy are recently hired college graduates, so they have already been hired into a role and the companies they are working for are making an additional investment in their mainframe-specific skills.

What kind of support do you get from enterprises looking for skilled workers?

The Mainframe Academy was designed hand-in-hand with our mainframe customers to produce results and help organizations invest in their future. Currently, we’re working alongside SHARE’s zNextGen program, which also works to address the mainframe skills gap. Our scholarship recipients are actually selected by SHARE representatives, who award the scholarships to applicants that demonstrate a desire to master mainframe programming skills.

We also work closely with many companies on private courses, with the goal of providing customized learning to address their existing in-house training requirements.

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