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IBM’s Partners in Education (PIE) program promises to increase the number of trained AS/400 professionals in the market. Here’s a look at the program, the roles and responsibilities of its participants, as well as several examples of organizations reaping the benefits.

With the continued labor shortage in information technology (IT), many AS/400 shops are already feeling the crunch for trained AS/400 professionals. According to a June 1998 report published by Gartner Group, “What’s Hot for AS/400 Users Through 2000,” among top concerns for AS/400 users is the lack of trained AS/400 professionals in the marketplace. In addition, needs for skills in data warehousing, Windows NT servers, Domino/Notes integration, Java incorporation, Year 2000 problems, and e-business expansion compete for AS/400 training.

IBM’s white paper “An Assessment of AS/400 Skills and a Course of Action” outlines the main influences for today’s IT staffing demand. First, nearly all U.S. geographic economies continue to grow, and many other economies around the world are also growing rapidly. Businesses, including top management, have recognized the need for technology to be competitive and have created more demands on IT organizations. Increasing system size also increases the size of the IT support staff. The previously mentioned Gartner Group report stated that “massive high-end growth and price/performance improvements have spurred a major consolidation trend for AS/400 users, which will affect more than 50 percent of installed AS/400 systems.”

In addition, as modernization needs for graphical user interfaces, front-office applications, collaborative computing, and business intelligence increase, the Internet is creating new business opportunities and requirements for those who want to remain competitive. Challenges brought on by client/server dynamics and impending Year 2000 problems have impacted IT resources. Finally, the demand for programmers now spans all platforms and all levels of expertise, further adding to the competitiveness in IT staffing. In addition, the programming demands stemming from euro-related changes are enormous.

To compound the overall IT staffing issues, the AS/400 industry also faces some unique challenges of its own. Many colleges and universities are not teaching an AS/400

curriculum, and existing AS/400 sites may have more modernization agendas than do organizations based on other platforms. In addition, businesses would often rather hire available expertise than train their staffs.

AS/400 University

To help organizations battle these personnel and other challenges, last summer, IBM formed an AS/400 education umbrella known as AS/400 University. The purpose of the organization is to include all AS/400 educational information under one central system or repository, allowing access to in-depth information at any time.

IBM has developed several programs under AS/400 University targeted at AS/400 Business Partners, developers, and users, including Web University, the AS/400 Partners in Education (PIE) and Partners in Development programs, IBM Learning Services, and AS/400 Certification. AS/400 Web University, for example, is an all-education Web site devoted to AS/400 development. Users can access the site at any time to take courses or labs and run CD-ROMs.

These programs focus heavily on e-business, application modernization and sales, and technical support around the AS/400. Through the AS/400 University programs, users can learn about e-business and other new technologies, understand their value in business, and discover how the AS/400 can help them take advantage of the latest industry developments. Next, IBM plans to introduce AS/400 University programs globally and have courses available worldwide by the end of this year.

“In order to more effectively utilize the AS/400 as a business tool, AS/400 professionals need education,” said Anne Lucas, program manager responsible for IBM’s AS/400-brand education and strategy.

IBM’s PIE Program

IBM founded its PIE program in 1996 in order to help fill the need for trained AS/400 graduates entering the workforce.

Initially a pilot program, PIE has evolved based on feedback from its many participants, including more than 120 colleges and universities worldwide, 150 Business Partners, and six major user groups. Through this program, an IBM Business Partner, customer, or user group can sponsor a two- or four-year college or university or a high school. IBM provides the schools with equipment options for hardware, a donation of software and a five-year software subscription, a curriculum, faculty training, and other support. Under this unique partnership, IBM, the sponsor, and the school work together to implement a curriculum to meet the needs of the sponsor as well as the surrounding business community. See Figure 1 for an outline of PIE participant responsibilities.

The current PIE curriculum includes five tracks designed to prepare students for today’s job environment (see Figure 2). These tracks include Operations, Help Desk, AS/400 Application Development, Client/Server Application Development, and Network Computing. IBM structures these tracks so that the educational institutions may tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of its students. Each IBM-designed course provides the school with an overview, outline, syllabus, classroom/lab setup guidelines, schedule, instructor’s guide, weekly lesson plans with presentation materials, student lab exercises, and quizzes and exams with answer keys.

Sponsors generally scope out local educational outlets to sponsor and submit a five- or six-point proposal to IBM, providing background on the school, its existing relationship with the sponsor, and other pertinent information. The approval process takes about two weeks.

“We rarely turn down a proposal,” said Linda Grigoleit, program manager for AS/400 Partners in Education. “It isn’t a contract. We just want to make sure that everyone is committed.”

The PIE program has numerous benefits to the IT community. It encourages IT as a career choice, expands overall AS/400 awareness, enhances the AS/400 skilled resource

base for hiring purposes, decreases internal training costs, and helps schools respond to local IT education needs.

“It takes all of us to make the program work, but everyone wins in the end,” Grigoleit said.

Household-name businesses, including L.L. Bean and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, currently participate in the program, and large universities, such as Oklahoma State University, University of Alaska, and State University of New York, also have sponsors.

Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) in Rochester, Minnesota, is one school that has benefited from the PIE program. With 4,000 full-time students and 8,000 part-time students, RCTC implemented the program in 1996 with several sponsors, including Metafile Information Systems, Inc., Pace Financial Corporation, and IBM. The school’s AS/400 curriculum supports a certificate degree and an Associate of Applied Science degree. Since the PIE program’s inception at RCTC, 58 students have enrolled in the school’s AS/400 programs, and to date, 25 of those students have graduated. According to the school, a large waiting list exists of students eager to participate in the advanced certificate degree program.

Pace Financial is an IBM Business Partner in the healthcare industry as well as an RCTC sponsor. The company has hired one graduate from RCTC’s AS/400 program and expects to hire additional graduates over the next few years. Todd Humphrey, vice president of Pace Financial, said the company’s involvement with the college gives the company access to the top of the class, provides a primary source of recruitment, and increases the overall job market. “When you can’t find people in the market, you need to create them,” Humphrey said. He added that the PIE program also allows companies to give back to the community and help people grow.

Another RCTC sponsor, Metafile Information Systems, works with the college to provide input to the AS/400 program and curriculum. The company expects to hire RCTC graduates over the next year in the technical support area.

IBM helped RCTC to develop the AS/400 courses, and RCTC feels confident in the programs. “IBM does a remarkable job of defining the curriculum,” said Warren Kemplin, director of corporate partnership development at RCTC. “We only made small changes, which were based on what the Partners required.”

The graduates also have many options upon leaving the school. According to Scott Sachs, RCTC director of workforce technology training, three jobs currently are available to every RCTC graduate, and many of the students are hired during their internships. In addition, 100 percent of the students in RCTC’s AS/400 program participates in the college’s internship program.

Other Pieces of the PIE

Initial school participation in the PIE program has primarily stemmed from community colleges. Slowly, however, four-year higher education institutions and high schools have also become involved.

Schools currently participating are also expanding their curriculum programs. RCTC, for example, provides courses within the Help Desk track and would like to increase its AS/400 skilled faculty and expand its AS/400 education program to include curricula from the Client/Server Application Development and Network Computing tracks. RCTC also plans to offer noncredit, customized training to businesses looking to train or retrain employees based on the curriculum. The courses will be filled on a contractual basis. IBM also plans to add e-business to the Network Computing curriculum track this year.

IBM says some PIE participants have seen benefits in less than a year of implementing the program.

Investing in the Future

IBM has designed its education programs to help companies meet their staffing and training needs. As current industry demands grow and qualified professionals become

more difficult to find, companies may benefit from these programs as they strive to keep up with the pace of the industry. The bottom line is this: Information technology depends on investment in people as much as it does on investment in hardware and software.

Responsibilities of PIE Participants

IBM

• Provides AS/400 equipment options to schools for hardware and software
• Provides software subscription
• Provides a comprehensive AS/400 curriculum to assist schools with course implementation
• Offers opportunities to faculty for continuing AS/400 training
• Provides discount on hardware maintenance
• Provides discount to faculty on courses offered through IBM Learning Services
• Assists sponsors and Education Partners in developing AS/400 skills to benefit the local business community

AS/400 Business Partner or Customer

• Submits proposal to IBM outlining plans for partnership
• Provides assistance to school on selection and installation of equipment
• Ensures that a satisfactory curriculum is implemented
• Provides ongoing partnership with school and reviews curriculum annually
• Supports school in a variety of ways, e.g., student internships, technical expertise, etc.

College, University, or High School

• Implements an AS/400 curriculum within one year from approval of proposal
• Maintains commitment to faculty education on AS/400
• Ensures ongoing partnership with sponsor and reviews curriculum annually
• Provides AS/400 brand with information on AS/400 program annually when requested

Source: IBM Partners in Education

Figure 1: Each party plays a key role in the success of the PIE program.

PIE Educational Tracks

Track I: Operations

• AS/400 Operations
• AS/400 Application Development Tools
• Internship

Track II: Help Desk

• AS/400 Operations
• AS/400 Application Development Tools
• PC Operating Systems
• Network Technologies
• Internship

Track III: AS/400 Application Development

• AS/400 Operations
• AS/400 Application Development Tools
• CL Programming
• Procedural Programming I (RPG/400 or COBOL)
• Procedural Programming II (RPG/400 or COBOL)
• RPG IV
• Java for RPG Programmers
• DBMS/SQL
• Internship

Track IV: Client/Server Application Development
• AS/400 Application Development Tools
• Network Technologies
• Internet Technologies
• Visual Basic
• VisualAge RPG
• VisualAge Java
• DBMS/SQL
• Internship

Track V: Network Computing

• Network Technologies
• Internet Technologies
• Network Design
• Network Management and Support/NT
• Lotus Notes
• Domino
• E-business Connections (New in 1999)
• Internship

Source: IBM AS/400 Partners in Education

Figure 2: The PIE program offers five distinct curriculum tracks designed to meet the needs of the sponsors and the corresponding educational institutions.

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