College RPG Needs A Technology Refresh
November 10, 2014 Dan Burger
What’s being done about the shortage of young IBM i talent? Of the U.S. colleges teaching RPG and other IBM i skills, the number of graduates with more than a lunch box full of job-ready skills might not fill a single school bus. The IBM Power Systems Academic Initiative has made some progress, but it is really just a trickle when a steady stream is what is needed. The IBM i roadmap should take this a lot more seriously.
One of the things that the Academic Initiative is doing to help is updating the RPG curriculum that it offers to free to colleges. I’m happy to hear that, but I’m wondering what took so long? IBM will be the first to tell you how much IT has changed and how much more it will change in the near future. The IBM i operating system and Power Systems hardware have not stood still. There are plenty of enhancements that make the system modern and much more capable than previous systems and there should be college graduates who know and understand the latest technologies and capabilities. As IBM enhances IBM i on Power, it should be enhancing its college curriculum to keep in step.
What it is getting around to doing is revamping its RPG curriculum to take into account what a modern RPG programmer should know. Free format RPG and SQL programming are two areas that could a graduate should have in his or her toolbox. It’s just now being added. And it’s being added into a teaching package that is better suited to college coursework and ease of presentation so instructor skills can be enhanced along with the course materials.
If you have instructors teaching students RPG techniques that are 10 years old, as one example, they’re not going to possess the skills that a company with modernization on its mind is hoping to employ. On the other hand, if a company wants to preserve a 20th century IT strategy the status quo in IBM i education may fit the “good enough” plan skills management, which for a lot of shops means waiting until an employee is ready to retire and then attempting to hire someone with a skill set that matches your 20- or 30-year-old IT profile.
Companies talk about the lack of a skills pipeline and I agree the diameter of the pipe is much too narrow, but many companies have mismanaged their workforce skills and haven’t given them much thought until the panic button begins to flash.
There’s much blame to share.
But my point is that the Academic Initiative is slowly building the bridge. Upgrading the RPG curriculum is a positive step, a necessary step.
COMMON, with its RPG certification, should be headed in this same direction. COMMON wants to reach out more to colleges and universities to connect with the next generation of IBM i professionals. It has worked with the Academic Initiative to raise the awareness of its certifications. Therefore it needs to keep its certification testing current with IBM i, RPG, and Power Systems technology enhancements. To whatever extent possible, COMMON should be encouraging IBM to invest more in the AI program.
Providing better materials for instructors is a positive step. Modern college-grade teaching aids will assist existing teachers and may even persuade some colleges without an IBM i advocate on staff to give the RPG assignment to someone who can understand it in its most modern free form.
That’s some pie-in-the-sky thinking based only on some updated RPG curriculum and teaching aids. And that’s why I say IBM should go beyond the nickel and dime educational investments and get more involved with building alliances between IBM i shops in the hunt for young talent and schools that are receptive to training enterprise caliber students for a job market that is only discovered via partnerships.
Companies have found recruitment success when the IT and HR departments work together on a strategy that has close ties to colleges where IBM i skills are part of the computer science curriculum. When done in conjunction with other IBM i shops, they have formed advisory boards that help determine classroom subjects and emphasis on specific skills. It’s an effective strategy when tied to a hiring commitment, but it’s not one in widespread use.
IBM should lead and the IBM i community should get onboard an effort to build more college-business alliances.