The mainframe industry’s ongoing efficacy and success depends on skilled mainframe professionals. For mainframe organizations, providing extensive training is only half the battle — mainframe personnel must actually do the training. IBM digital badges have proven to be the secret sauce that energize and empower modern mainframe workforce training programs. I have witnessed all of this myself over the seven remarkable years of the IBM Digital Badge program.
Please note that IBM makes these digital credentials available to the industry. There is no cost or implementation involved in achieving the following mainframe workforce skill, productivity, retention, and satisfaction benefits. Just follow one simple rule: when choosing the training for your mainframe workforce, try to choose training that awards IBM digital badges.
What Is a Digital Badge?
Digital Badge: A portable online data object (badge) defined by an open technology standard (OpenBadges v2.1) and common language for describing and validating what each IBM digital credential represents.
A digital badge can represent small things such as foundational knowledge, discrete skills, or individual achievements (micro-level) right up to large things like formal certifications (macro-level). A digital badge is fraud-proof and instantly verifiable for authenticity. It represents a digital truth, third-party verified by the issuing organization.
Digital badges are backed by metadata that shows the detailed specifics of the training or achievement for which the badge was awarded. A few clicks show to a granular detail exactly what was learned/achieved, when, where, from who, and so much more.
Now, let’s talk about some of the benefits IBM digital badges provide to the mainframe industry:
1. Triple Digit Growth Across Training Metrics
The game mechanics and psychology that underpin digital badges work. People are incredibly motivated by badges. Once they’ve earned one, they want to earn another. As learning in the corporate sector has become more informal, the employee’s motivation to drive their own development has become pivotal to their performance, and to the performance of the mainframe organization as a whole.
An IBM study carried out in 2015 measured the impact of adding IBM ‘s innovative digital badges to its existing IBM workforce training program. The results are staggering for any manager or organization.
Students actively enrolling in training increased by 129% and personnel completing courses increased by 226%.
Students were more motivated to pass the end-of-course exam to earn the badge, shown by an end-of-course pass rate increase of a stunning 694%. (Note: no other IBM promotions or announcements could have influenced this increase.)
Study after training industry study has shown the remarkable effect of adding the reward and recognition of digital credentials to a training program. It takes the onus off the mainframe manager or learning and development manager to push mainframers to do training and creates the learning culture where mainframers actively seek out and complete training.
In a testament to the power of IBM digital badges to drive training, mainframe industry educator Interskill has seen their online mainframe training delivered annually increase from 260,000 hours in 2016 when it became an IBM authorized digital badge issuer, to 960,000 hours in 2021. This massive lift to mainframe industry skill levels has earned mainframers over 100,000 IBM digital badges, which continue to motivate even more mainframers to train!
Anecdotally, at a recent SHARE conference, I spoke with a mainframe manager who proudly listed the three IBM badges he had earned in 2021. I congratulated him and asked if he would have done that much (over 25 hours) training if it weren’t for the IBM badges. He laughed and said, “I wouldn’t have done any training this year if it weren’t for the IBM badges!” Extrapolate that story out over hundreds of thousands of other mainframers’ stories and you’ll get an idea of the cumulative impact these digital credentials have on driving training and lifting the skills of the mainframe workforce and the efficacy of the mainframe industry!
2. Workforce Engagement and Retention
COVID-19 has been the catalyst for massive socioeconomic changes, and the world is now experiencing “the Great Resignation” with elevated numbers of personnel retiring or changing jobs. Skilled mainframe personnel are not an abundant resource, so for mainframe organizations, workforce engagement and retention have become as important as hiring.
IBM Smarter Workforce Institute analyzed data from over 19,000 workers in 26 countries, in a cross-section of industries and thousands of different organizations. Their analyses revealed that the synergy of readily available mainframe training, and the recognition offered by IBM Digital Badges and other initiatives, are important to not only engage talent but keep talent.
Key findings include:
- Employees who receive recognition are more likely to be engaged at work. The engagement level of recognized employees is almost three times higher than unrecognized employees.
- Workers who receive the recognition of digital credentialing and see the organization investing in their careers are only half as likely to leave the organization.
According to another 2019 study by The Execu|Search Group:
- 94% of employees say they would stay at their current employer if the company invested in helping them learn.
- 86% of employees would leave their current job for greater professional development
One final reason for organizations to use digital credentialing to aid workforce engagement and retention is simply the cost. A study by The Josh Bersin Company showed that “it can cost as much as six times more to hire from the outside than to build from within.” Keeping, rewarding, motivating, and empowering existing mainframe personnel with training and digital credentialing is a significantly more cost-effective management of mainframe human capital.
3. Industry Skills Benchmarking
In the highly technical mainframe computing industry, benchmarking skills to objectively measure verifiable and endorsed standards have a powerful impact on both mainframe workforce and industry efficacy. For mainframe organizations, providing their workforces unverified mainframe training content is no longer a guarantee of optimal mainframe skills.
IBM’s landmark digital badge program has been instrumental in this industry skills benchmarking trend with 5.3 million IBM digital badges awarded since 2016. More recently, Broadcom and other mainframe ISVs, plus industry groups like SHARE and The Open Mainframe Project have also begun offering digital badges to benchmark mainframe skills.
On a micro level, these mainframe industry leaders collectively offer hundreds of topic-based “Skills Badges” that benchmark specific mainframe skills and knowledge. On a macro level, IBM now offers comprehensive mainframe certifications that benchmark a person’s overall effectiveness in a mainframe job role. These “IBM Professional Certificates” feature stackable badge credential methodology and utilize the rigorous, complex, credential style now so valued in the IT industry.
Tap Into the Power of Digital Badges
I believe the mainframe industry’s future depends on the skill of its mainframe workforce. Looking toward that future, I draw great hope from the quotes of two pivotal mainframers: In 1939, IBM Founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. famously said, “There is no saturation point in education,” and, over 80 years later, IBM’s current CEO Arvind Krishna wrote, “I believe innovation starts with insane curiosity, passion for lifelong learning, and relentless focus on what’s next.”
Both these statements show IBM’s past, present, and future commitment to learning, and the IBM Badge Program is a powerful testament to this commitment. Digital credentialing from IBM and other forward-looking mainframe ISVs and groups is now a key component of modern mainframe workforce training, so train, train, train your mainframe workforces, and remember the one simple rule: always try to choose training that awards digital badges.
Darren Surch is CEO of Interskill Learning and is one of only two people ever named a ‘Lifetime IBM Champion’ for IBM Z by IBM.