How are Insurers Going to Keep People Patching Mainframe Systems in a World of New IT Opportunities?
Insurance Experts' Forum, June 23, 2011
As the economy continues to mend in its slow, shaky fashion, one of the first areas seeing the transition is IT employment.
The latest statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in fact, show that tech unemployment rate at 3.8% as of May 2011, well below the national average of 9.1%. The BLS category of “computer and mathematics occupations” is down from 5.5% a year ago.
Which means that insurers will need to work harder to keep the employees they have, as well as find new talent as the current crop of professionals retire or move on.
As suggested at this site a couple of weeks ago, social networking is one approach to reaching out to today's professionals. To reiterate, insurers will need to not only proactively market themselves as great places to work, but also offer open, flexible working arrangements, perhaps with compensation tied to performance.
Another key strategy is to elevate the organization's performance with human resources issues to that of other key business performance measures. How a company treats employees may have just as great an impact on business performance as sales and marketing. This was borne out in a new study out of Aberdeen, for example, finds that organizations that integrate workforce and business performance data into their analytics tools are three times as likely to achieve “best-in-class” performance than those who don't. The ROI from analytics can be significant, in that best-in-class had a decrease of unnecessary overtime by 20%, twice the improvement in customer satisfaction, as well as notably increased workforce utilization.
Analysis is one side of the coin, attracting and keeping IT talent also has very specific challenges as well. For example, insurers with mainframe systems need to worry about finding professionals well versed in COBOL or System z administration – totally different animals than maintaining PC servers and social networks. IBM, for one, has been doing a lot of work in building relationships with colleges and universities to develop or strengthen mainframe-based curricula. IBM's Academic Initiative for System z program is a global project by IBM to align with colleges, universities and businesses across the globe to develop mainframe and large enterprise skills for future employment with Fortune 500 companies across the globe. To date, IBM says, the initiative has now assisted 814 colleges and universities across the globe to educate students on enterprise computing skills.
IBM also announced a partnership with JobTarget, LLC, to provide an employment resource directly links students and experienced professionals with IBM System z clients.
The bottom line is that many of today's college students are drawn by the “sexier” opportunities in today's technology space – from social networking to cloud to open-source projects. But as any major insurance IT manager can testify, there are plenty of opportunities for large legacy system talent that are going begging. The challenge is to make the work as interesting and fulfilling as any social networking startup may be.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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