In a world of smartphones, laptops, and tablets, it is surprising to learn that many businesses still rely on large mainframe computers. More than 70 percent of the world’s financial transactions are processed on IBM mainframe enterprise systems, says John Turchek, head of the Department of Computer and Information Systems at Robert Morris University.
In fact, “much of the data we use everyday is run through some sort of mainframe,” says RMU alumnus Michael Mihalchik, IT manager for Local 66 Combined Funds Inc., which handles benefits for members of the Operating Engineers union in Pittsburgh. Mihalchik holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from RMU, in business information systems and computer information systems respectively.
Unfortunately, many colleges and universities stopped teaching students how to manage mainframe systems 20 years ago, leaving many industries with a graying IT workforce. More than half could retire within the next four to eight years, according to Turchek. “I will let you imagine the consequences if these systems do not operate,” he said.
Enter RMU. The university revived its enterprise systems courses at the behest of local employers including Highmark, PNC, and BNY Mellon. A concentration in enterprise systems is available in all five of RMU’s undergraduate computing programs and in three of its five master’s programs.
IBM has called Robert Morris a model for others to follow and has provided the university with free use of mainframe systems for RMU students. Support from IBM has been critical to the early success of RMU’s enterprise systems program, given the expensive hardware required to teach mainframe skills. RMU has also done well to follow the advice of experts like Mihalchik, who is part of an industry advisory board that has informed the university’s enterprise systems coursework.
“We can see that Robert Morris is providing its students a solid, hands-on curriculum in mainframe instruction,” said David Brown, chief systems architect for the client service and partner technology group at BNY Mellon.
Brown suspects that within the next five years, other universities may begin providing similar training, but by then it may be too late to overtake RMU’s early action in this space. BNY Mellon is well aware of the challenge it faces in finding entry-level employees capable of managing mainframe-supported applications, so the corporation has plans to launch a mentoring program for IT workers that likely would include RMU.
Said Brown, “It’s not just BNY Mellon; it’s most of the larger, more technology-driven companies. You’re talking about the key businesses in Pittsburgh who are going to have this need.”