PAYE umbrella contractors with mainframe experience the IT skills market could be in for a busy year in 2012, as a new survey of chief information officers suggests that a big majority of them fear a talent shortage next year.

Compuware has just conducted an international poll of 520 CIOs – and found that 71% of them anticipate a significant skills shortage that will impact badly on the running of their firm’s mainframe. Respondents fear that this could lead to a series of harmful knock-on effects, such as project overrun, diminished productivity and application risks.

Neil Richards, the European Mainframe Director at Compuware, said all CIOs responsible for overseeing mainframe business are bound to encounter skills shortages in the coming few years. If they currently rely on several experts who know an application like the backs of their hands, all it will take is a series of retirements for this skills base to disappear.

Moreover, he thinks that many firms are blithely unaware of the risks. Most mainframe applications, he explained, were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s and have been extended in multiple ways over the years. They tend now to be exceedingly complex and difficult to understand. The experts who currently maintain them will be exceptionally hard to replace should they leave.

Knowledge of mainframes is not the same thing as knowledge of applications, he added. Experts with sound mainframe experience understand not just the business logic of the applications but how the system functions as a whole. He urged companies to begin thinking now about back-up plans to cultivate the necessary skills before the current generation of experts depart.

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