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Tools and Training can help Onboard New IBM i Developers

Bridge the skills gap with digital and in-person offerings.

illustration of a bridge with a missing piece on a blue background.

For the past 20 years, I've attended virtual conferences, webinars and user group conferences including IBM's webcasts, COMMON's simulated conference, TUG in Toronto, NEUGC in New England and RPG Summits all over the country. During this time, I’ve connected with both customers and vendors as they make their way to my virtual or physical booth to catch up on professional and personal happenings. 

Over the years, I’ve kept up with Mary's new family addition (it's a girl!), Chuck's son’s new career and Mike's new product line. At each conference, I always spot many attendees in the audience whose faces or names I recognize. Every year, we all gain more experience (and weight), have a few more gray hairs and earn more “wisdom” wrinkles. Even so, year after year, we share what we love and continue to learn what we can to keep the IBM i rolling.

At the last few conferences, I've started to notice a difference. The old friends and colleagues I've known for years are no longer in attendance. When I scan the room, it takes longer to find a face I recognize. I ask around and soon find out that Mike retired or Chuck started a new job or Mary quit to care for her mother. 

I have also witnessed this in other ways. I recently received an email from a customer that said, “Over the years, there has been turnover in personnel due to retirement. Our account number and license agreement have been lost. Is there a way to verify our information, send us a key to continue on the new hardware and train us on your tools?”

It's a new world out there, and although IBM i experts and RPG programmers are retiring from the workforce at a pronounced rate, new opportunities to train a new generation abound.

A Solution for the Skills Gap

Experienced folks have been developing and managing all areas of IBM i shops for years, keeping the system secure, backed up, upgraded and running seamlessly with minimal interruption to the status quo. For years, vendors have worked with the same contacts at various businesses who have used their tools to streamline processes and be more productive. Now, day after day, they find that those contacts have retired or moved on. This leaves many organizations wondering how they will bridge the experience gap.

The first order of business is to hire the right people. Companies will seldom find “experienced” IBM i or RPG developers to match those going out the door. New hires will come from a pool of fresh candidates. Colleges and technical schools have been intentional about getting students interested in STEM curriculum. Although they may be unfamiliar with IBM i, organizations must be open to focusing on these candidates’ business application skills rather than dwelling on their inexperience with the platform. Basic capabilities like good written and verbal communication skills and the ability to work both independently and on a team are much more important than experience with the system. Everything else can be taught to motivated individuals.

Once replacements are found, management must be committed to supporting the new additions’ education to bring them up to speed, whether it be through formal training or through dedicated practice. The IBM i ecosystem provides a wealth of opportunities for companies to educate and expose their new hires to the system they find themselves on, including conferences and virtual webinars throughout the year. For those willing to self-train, vendors also post videos and training guides online.

Finally, companies must put the right tools into the hands of the new hires. New hires shouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel when the IBM i world offers easy-to-use tools. For example, not only do change-management and database utilities free up time by simplifying mundane tasks, but they also quickly give new employees the ability to move about within the IBM i system and learn the elements that are vital to their jobs. The same can be said for backup and safety net tools that audit a new programmer's work, allowing them to revert back to or reactivate records that were deleted by mistake. Putting tools like this into the hands of a new developer will offer them the confidence to try things that aren't familiar to them in this new environment. 

Continuing Excellence on IBM i

The IBM i world has been very good to me and to many people in the industry. The ecosystem is thriving. The companies I've worked for and worked with have inspired me to do things I never thought I'd be able to do. The people I've met have become great friends who have shared some awesome experiences along the way. While it's the natural progression of life and a career, I find myself in a new phase of the work-life journey. 

Many industry people are right there with me—people are retiring or moving in new directions, while the IBM i trajectory continues upward. The torch can be passed on to the next generation as long as we dedicate ourselves to helping ensure their success. It's all about the people we hire and train—and about the tools we put into their hands, helping our industries move forward in new and exciting ways. 

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