Advisory firm Gartner has issued a warning to organisations dependent on mainframes this week. The analyst said that organisations must plan how they will maintain the skills needed to keep their operations running up to 2020. Why the sudden panic? Because their key staff, with all the application and business knowledge, are most likely to retire in the next ten years.

Gartner’s report, Ensuring You Have Mainframe Skills Through 2020, points out that computer giant IBM’s graduates are lacking in z/OS skills, which will lead to problems in the long run. Competition to those few that do have the right capabilities, from firms like HP and Microsoft, will be fierce and organisations will have to work harder to hold on to their employees if they do not invest in training now.

Mike Chuba, vice president of Gartner and the author of the report, also highlights the fact that companies using older mainframes or machines will face even bigger problems as employees with knowledge about the old technology pass through the company and new employees do not have the right training to cope.

Surely this is common sense? You would think that organisations like IBM, or even smaller companies, would be constantly investing in new talent and more and better training, but the global economic downturn put a hold on hiring, and if this pattern continues, many companies are in danger of running themselves aground.

Gartner has been urging companies to invest in training since as early as 2008 to avoid a skills shortfall. The analyst insists that the definition of a qualified worker changes so rapidly due to developing technology that not investing is business suicide.

The report recommends close working between CIOs and HR departments to figure out when a company is likely to need an influx of fresh new talent, and how to survive the difficulty of hand-overs and cross-training between old staff and new. At Inatech, staff training on new systems is a central part of what we do, as we understand the needs of an organisation to invest in its people.