New business certificate prepares UAB students to fill workforce gaps

Employer representatives from companies such as BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama, Protective Life Corporation and Regions are serving as adjunct faculty in teaching courses for the program, giving students insight into employers’ needs firsthand.
Written by: Katherine Shonesy
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mainframe 2A Protective employee monitors the jobs being processed by the mainframe. The University of Alabama at Birmingham Management, Information Systems and Quantitative Methods Department in the Collat School of Business has partnered with major local businesses to introduce the Enterprise Systems Certificate, a program designed to help students and working professionals advance in their careers by improving understanding of mainframe technologies.

“We are excited to be able to launch this certificate program that will prepare our students for in-demand careers,” said Molly Wasko, Ph.D., associate dean of Research, Innovation and Faculty Success in the Collat School of Business. “Through the partnership of local companies, our students are able to receive the necessary training that will allow them to easily transition into the workforce, where there is a real need for qualified applicants.”

Mainframe technology, known as ‘big computing,’ is responsible for daily operations of most of the world’s largest corporations. Approximately 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies depend on the original IBM mainframe for computing services, as well as 92 percent of the top 100 global banks and nearly 100 percent of all credit card transactions.

Baby boomers who started their IT careers in the 1970s and 1980s — when the mainframe was predominant — are now approaching the ends of their careers. The generations behind them trained in different computing platforms, leaving a gap in the field. A contributing factor to the shortage is that many colleges no longer teach traditional mainframe technologies and skills. UAB’s Enterprise Systems certificate program aims to address that shortage, and prepare a new generation of professionals to succeed in mainframe careers.

Locally, major employers such as BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama, Protective Life Corporation and Regions all operate a large portion of their business on a mainframe computing system.

In addition to providing input on course material, employer representatives from these companies are serving as adjunct faculty in teaching courses for the program, giving students insight into employers’ needs firsthand.

mainframeProtective's mainframe computer housed in the company's data center.“The mainframe at Protective provides us a stable platform that delivers business value at scale,” said Mathew Kohler, chief technology officer for Protective Life Corporation. “It runs our core business administration system that supports our growing retail life insurance business, and our acquisitions business, where we consolidate acquired businesses onto our technologies.”

Wendy Evesque, Protective’s chief human resources officer, added, “We need skilled talent to support this very important platform, and we look to academic programs like UAB’s to help supply those resources.”

Meanwhile, the mainframe is not phasing out of existence anytime in the foreseeable future, with so many businesses continuing to rely on its processes to operate. Underscoring the stock placed in the future of the mainframe, IBM recently developed what it bills as the most sophisticated computer on the planet — a mainframe called the z13, which local companies such as Protective use. At Protective, 70 percent of all transactions operate on this one computer.

Each individual computer can process more than 2.5 billion transactions per day, which is the equivalent of the online shopping volume generated on 100 Cyber Mondays.

It can scale up to 9,000 virtual services, including major credit card transactions, stock trades, money transfers and manufacturing processes.

By some estimates, there will be more than 84,000 open positions in the enterprise systems field by 2020, highlighting the need for trained mainframe technology professionals now.

Admission requirements

Admission requirements include current status as a UAB student or admittance as a UAB nontraditional student in the Collat School of Business, plus one introductory-level programming course or equivalent work experience. To apply to the certificate program, please contact Gary Applewhite, adviser for Information Systems, at (205) 934-8830 or