IT Training: IBM Program Cultivates Talent in College Classrooms

IBM hopes to double the number of participating institutions by the end of 2005

Last week, IBM Corp. trumpeted the fruits of a new program designed to help cultivate the next generation of mainframe professionals in today's college classrooms. Thanks to its Academic Initiative on zSeries, 150 colleges and universities offer educational resources on zSeries mainframes, the company says.

That’s nothing: Big Blue hopes to double this number by the end of the year.

Big Iron futurists have been warning about an impending “mainframe brain drain” for some time now. Mainframe operators and systems programmers are “graying” out of the labor market; many are now nearing retirement age. When these mainframe experts retire, some analysts argue, IT organizations will be hard-pressed to replace them.

The zSeries flavor of IBM’s Academic Initiative helps to familiarize students with mainframe concepts and methods. It gives students and instructors hands-on access to zSeries mainframes, a Big Iron-oriented curriculum, assistance from experts, and dedicated training for students and faculty. The goal, officials say, is to help students develop practical mainframe skills that enable them to step into good-paying jobs once they graduate, helping to offset the exodus of retiring mainframe experts.

“Through this program, computer-science programs around the world are training thousands of students on highly marketable mainframe skills based on the platform’s unmatched features and support of open standards like Linux and Java,” said Mike Bliss, director of IBM zSeries technical support and marketing, in a statement. “Students are often surprised to learn that many of the virtualization and security features that are now beginning to appear on UNIX and x86 systems have been running on mainframes for many years.”

Big Blue has set some ambitious goals for the zSeries flavor of its Academic Initiative program: It hopes to train as many as 20,000 mainframe-capable professionals by 2010. As a result, IBM says it will have to at least double the number of participating schools by the end of this year. The company emphasized its global outreach efforts in the EU, China, and Latin America as well.

Big Blue last week highlighted cases in its Academic Initiative program that have been a boon to participants. One such institution is the University of Arkansas—already well-endowed thanks to Wal-Mart founder and home-state hero Sam Walton. IBM says the university has qualified for zSeries mainframe, software, courseware, training, and development benefits valued at approximately $7 million.

“By teaming with IBM to offer course materials and hands-on access to the mainframe, students are beginning to realize that although mainframes are a more complex technology, most of the features they’ve learned about in the distributed environment actually originated on the mainframe,” said Dr. David Douglas, a professor with The University of Arkansas, Walton School of Business, in a statement.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.