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4 ways businesses can close the legacy tech skills gap

Sharon Florentine | Oct. 15, 2015
As older IT professionals age out of the workforce, companies need to ensure they have the right knowledge and skills to keep their legacy tech running smoothly.

Compuware has created a division, staffed by about 20, that operates like a startup within the larger company. The younger workers operate in a fun, flexible environment that's cutting-edge and innovative, but that still delivers critical value for Compuware customers, O'Malley says.

Layering new technology on top of the old

Hand-in-hand with a startup-like environment is being able to integrate cutting-edge technology and development methodologies with existing legacy systems. CIOs are well aware that many flashy, user experience-driven applications and solutions like online banking, online travel reservations and booking, and many government systems like immigration and homeland security, are running on legacy systems that are decades old. What CIOs must do is simultaneously embrace emerging technology to attract up-and-coming talent.

"For CIOs, it's about shaping the message that they're not just getting value from legacy tech, but they're embracing next-generation tech and funding it appropriately. Cloud and mobile, for instance, will attract new talent, and that talent will take those and bridge the gap between them and legacy enterprise computing -- for companies, that's huge value!" says Airey.

Microfocus's Visual COBOL is one example, integrating open systems development languages and tools, like Java and the Eclipse IDE, on top of COBOL-based legacy tech, Airey says.

Compuware's tech aims to normalize mainframe technology and development by allowing for open systems development with modern languages like Java, also using the Eclipse IDE, O'Malley says. Compuware also uses the Agile development methodology.

"The mainframe would have a hard time competing if innovation couldn't happen using 'modern' processes and development tools. So, our tech lets developers use Java and C++, add visual user interfaces and improve user experiences, and do it using agile methodologies. We're delivering new products and feature enhancements every 90 days -- we're a great example of how to use Agile on a mainframe," O'Malley says.

Premium pay

Since legacy technology skills and experience are hard to come by, many companies are paying handsomely for talent, even for workers right out of college, Airey says. And those workers will continue to earn high salaries throughout their careers. Even older workers whose retirement plans were thwarted by the economic crash of 2008 are earning well above the industry average, Airey says.

"It's simple supply and demand -- the supply is limited while the demand keeps growing. We've heard from our university clients that they're easily able to place their students in jobs because they have mainframe or COBOL skills, and those skills are paid at a premium because they're so valuable," he says.

Legacy Skills knowledge transfer

Savvy firms also develop and implement solid knowledge transfer strategies and processes to make it easier for their seasoned talent to teach the next generation. That's not just general technology basics and processes, languages and systems, but also includes industry- and company-specific knowledge, says Steve Trautman, founder and principal of The Steve Trautman Company, a consulting firm.


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