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POWER > Trends > Collaboration

The Path to Power Careers

Power Systems Academic Initiative

Sometimes a CIO’s most challenging task isn’t finding the right hardware or software, it’s finding the right peopleware. Organizations depend upon the IBM Power Systems* platform to run mission-critical workloads ranging from online transaction processing to reports and analytics to mobile apps. To keep those workloads running requires skilled staff.

The challenge is that the programmers and system administrators who came of age with the Power Systems platform are now retiring and taking their skills with them. Fortunately, IBM can help. Just as design teams constantly upgrade Power Systems hardware and developers increase the number and availability of software options, IBM also has a program focused on people—the IBM Power Systems Academic Initiative (PSAI) (ibm.co/2g3uoI5).

The PSAI was launched 21 years ago with an explicit mission: To work with colleges and universities worldwide to connect individuals with in-demand Power Systems skills to IBM clients. The program equips schools with the materials, technology and resources to effectively teach Power Systems skills and applications—at no charge. Program staff work to connect educators with the local Power Systems business community to foster collaboration. All of the elements and features of the PSAI work to advance the ultimate goal: filling staffing needs for IBM clients.

Real-World Skills

The program is built around a four-part structure that includes IBM courseware, IBM educational resources, a job board and the Power Systems Academic Cloud, all of which IBM provides to participating schools at no cost.

The current lineup includes specific courses for AIX*, IBM i and Linux*. Written by IBM professionals, courses are classified as a beginner, intermediate and advanced, and they frequently have specific objectives. Given the longstanding availability of Linux on POWER*, the PSAI includes a full slate of Linux courses, including individual courses on installing and running Ubuntu, Red Hat and SUSE Linux. IBM i offerings include courses targeting Linux professionals who need to learn RPG programming for IBM i, or using SQL, for example. And AIX courses cover topics such as AIX jump starts for UNIX* professionals, AIX storage-area networking management and TCP/IP for AIX administration.

South University in Savannah, Georgia has taken advantage of the PSAI to offer IBM courses to the 550 students in its Information Systems and Technology department. “We wanted to provide our students with employable skills out of every single course,” says Department Chair Angelo Thalassinidis. “We found the answer in the IBM courseware.”

With the help of graduates who have entered the workforce, Thalassinidis has been educating students on the value of learning skills such as RPG. “We are showing them the job possibilities,” he says. “We have three workshops where we can teach them RPG. If they are dedicated and give us four weekends, we will do a 30- to 40-hour workshop and give them a good background.”

Embracing New Technologies

The PSAI isn’t just about replacement skills, though. “We need skills to support the IBM i install base, but we need to look at the future as well,” says Peter T. Glass, program manager for the PSAI. In the last several months, the PSAI has added courseware from Red Hat encompassing both Red Hat Linux administration training and application development. SUSE courses include SUSE storage management and SUSE administration. Rogue Wave Software has contributed PHP and Zend Framework materials: hypertext preprocessing (PHP) courses and Framework 2 courses for developing web applications and services with PHP.

“A good mixture of resources is available for IBM clients, whether they need legacy skills or because their workforce is retiring or because they need new staff or to train existing staff to address up-and-coming business needs,” says Glass. “Regardless of what organizations require, the PSAI has a strategy in place to help provide it.”

Participating schools can also take advantage of additional IBM educational resources such as IBM technical libraries, Redbooks* publications and IBM subject-matter experts. This includes a “Teach the Teachers” program, which enables professors at colleges and universities who may not have Power Systems knowledge to take a deep dive in the technology and equip them to more effectively teach it to their students.

Of course, programming and system administration are hands-on subjects. That’s why a key aspect of the Academic Initiative program is the Power Systems Academic Cloud. Through this valuable resource, schools can give their students free round-the-clock access to a dedicated PSAI system that includes POWER7+* and POWER8* servers for teaching and research.

Filling Job Openings

The final component of the program is perhaps the most immediately relevant to CIOs and IT shops: the PSAI job board (powersystemsjobs.com ), where organizations can post openings for internships, entry-level positions and experienced employees.

By offering internships, organizations give students experience with the technology while working in the corporate world. At the same time, those internships enable IT shops to gauge the best fits for later hires.

Michael Picerno, director for computer science and criminal justice at Baker College in Flint, Michigan, took a pair of students to the COMMON Conference and Expo last year. They were hired on the spot, with multiple companies vying for their skills. “Those employers needed employees so badly that they were just looking for someone who was educated and trainable,” says Picerno. “One of the employers said that they would train them on RPG. That’s how in demand these students were.”

Baker offers both on-site and online courses. The curriculum includes minors in IBM i and information systems. Picerno is adding an IBM i minor that will include courses on CL programming and RPG, as well as other offerings such as IBM Watson* technology, Db2*, Web Query and Cognos.

The school’s online offerings have become increasingly popular with corporate IT shops that want to augment existing employees’ skills. “Companies send valued employees they want to promote but who don’t have specific skill sets,” says Picerno. “They take a range of classes. There are lots of instances for professional development where IT departments want somebody they currently employ to add to their education.”

Plans for the Future

As the retirement trend grows, so does the PSAI: Since 2012, the number of participating schools has risen from 135 to over 600. Although the program is flourishing, the management team continually focuses on new skills and technologies to better serve future needs of the IBM client base. “Going forward, we will be adding offerings to support IBM’s directions in big data and cognitive computing,” says Glass. “We have a pilot school running big data courseware now. We know it’s important to our clients, so we are committed to making it a part of the PSAI.”

In a separate development, the PSAI has been extended to high schools, particularly those with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. The experience will better equip high school students for college-level courses once they graduate, and prepare them to work with Power Systems hardware and software once they are working in the industry.

Creating Talent

The core mandate of educators is to educate, but above all, they want to provide students with employable skills. This goal puts the focus on collaborating with the industry to discover what capabilities are in demand and helping students acquire them—but that’s easier said than done.

“What happens in the corporate world is that you are assigned deliverables this morning that are due yesterday,” Thalassinidis says. “I understand that, but there’s a skills gap in many companies and that gap keeps growing. If IT departments don’t take time to work with our school and others like it, they will end up paying the price.”

The organizations ready to be part of the solutions are the ones who will have the opportunity to hire the best and brightest. “Don’t just call us and say that you need five people yesterday,” says Thalassinidis. “Help us develop people with the skills you need. Let’s sit down together and collaborate, and perhaps in a year from now you will have a steady pipeline of job candidates to choose from.”

That flexibility goes beyond member schools to the PSAI itself. “If there are other skills that clients need, we want to hear about it so we can enhance our program to satisfy the need,” says Janet Caruccio, project manager for the PSAI. “At its core, this program serves our clients.”

Kristin Lewotsky is a freelance technology writer based in Amherst, N.H.



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