Classroom education is important for learning new technologies, but when it comes to learning a complex field like mainframe, there’s no replacement for the value of on-the-job training. With its Mainframer in Training (MIT) program, U.K.-based service provider RSM Partners aims to add structure to this process, addressing the industry’s skills gap by developing future mainframe specialists from the ground up.
The MIT program – not to be confused with the U.S. university – offers comprehensive multi-year training. The objective is to develop its trainees into professionals who not only have a well-rounded set of skills in mainframe technologies, but also have the requisite specialist knowledge and soft skills needed to become service consultants, program organizer Jennie Holpin said in a recent interview.
Initially designed only for RSM Partners employees, MIT has since opened to customers who want to train their own future mainframe staff. The program includes online and in-person training at RSM Partners’ U.K. office, plus boot camps, hands-on projects, and an online community forum. Participants come from diverse backgrounds, and a university degree is not required to participate.
“We want someone who is passionate and hungry to develop their career: someone who wants to learn and who wants to drive themselves forward,” Holpin said. “Grades are less important. It’s more about the individual, their enthusiasm and their willingness to challenge themselves.”
Multi-Year Mainframe Education
The program involves three years of structured training followed by two more years of bespoke specialist training, Holpin explained. Year one is all about core fundamentals, from the basics of mainframe technology to the rigors of client support. Exams at the end of each year chart the trainees’ progress, and eventual graduates are considered junior consultants.
“After three months, they start doing real-life work at the support desk shadowing our seniors,” Holpin said. “Alongside that technical training, they also attend soft skills training, such as written and oral communications, presentation skills, and customer service.”
Mentoring is also an important part of the program. Trainees are paired with a mentor who helps not only with work, but also more general career advice and professional development. A good mentor could be someone who fits the trainees’ personality, career path, or desired skillset.
Toward the end of year one, trainees have the opportunity to hear from senior consultants who have specialized in fields such as z/OS, CICS, Db2, mainframe security, and others. This is an opportunity for the trainee to understand what life is like in that specialty, so they can decide how to proceed in their own career path, Holpin said.
That leads into years two and three, which are all about specialist training. Eventually, certain participants might also start management training, if that is a path that suits them.
“Now they start to become a more integral part of service delivery. They're working on client projects, and the clients are told this is a junior with X amount of experience,” Holpin said. “Clients are open to fresh talent coming through and being part of the learning process. We find trainees really hit the ground running, because the best way to learn is to do it, and they want to just get their hands on stuff.”
Picking Up Steam
The program has been beneficial for all parties involved, Holpin said. RSM gains from running their new recruits through in-depth training, and trainees say they appreciate the level of support and guidance they have received from trainers and mentors.
“The biggest benefit for me has to be the confidence I can put in my managers,” explained Harvi Singh, a junior consultant at RSM Partners. “Their many years of industry experience, as well as knowledge, mean that my program is flexible, yet focused and meaningful. [It allows] me to become a better mainframe professional overall, including soft skills such as bettering communication skills.”
Other trainees said they appreciate the opportunity to chart their own career path.
“The most beneficial aspect of the program has been the ability to choose which area of the system I would like to focus on learning, shaping the career path I want to take on in the mainframe,” said Martin Knight, now a junior z/OS consultant at RSM Partners. “I have chosen to take the ‘sysprog’ route, which allows me to develop a wide range of skills and interact with many different parts of the system.”
RSM customers have also benefited by having their own new hires trained through MIT.
“Word has gotten out that we have this successful training program and people are becoming interested, because it's not just a bunch of training courses, but also the package around it,” Holpin said. “We have the senior and principal consultants who have been in the industry for years and years. These guys are eager to share this information. It's such a family community, and that’s the unique selling point.”
In that way, the MIT program is helping to nurture and grow the mainframe community at large by bringing in fresh faces, encouraging knowledge sharing, and developing mentoring relationships that will last for decades.