A crippling lack of IBM-related skills in the jobs market has driven the Royal Bank of Scotland to begin a major cross-training programme.
The bank has a number of IBM mainframe and AS/400 systems that it is struggling to keep fully staffed-up. John Hawkins, human resources manager for IT, said traditional recruitment methods were not getting the people.
"We were experiencing diminishing returns on our advertising and agency activity for recruiting mainframe programmers. We consulted the business and decided to do something I have not seen anyone else doing - retraining skilled Cobol programmers who have knowledge of the full project lifecycle," he explained.
In November RBS began the first round of advertising for recruits to cross-train in a range of IBM skills, including Cics, MVS and DB2. New projects, such as the retail banking venture with Tesco and the new Internet banking service, have joined the Year 2000 as cumulative drains on resources.
However, Hawkins denied the additional staff were needed because the Bank was struggling to hit its deadline of being fully Year 2000 compliant by the end of 1998.
"The fact is we have a real need for skilled people. The Year 2000 is not a major driver for this exercise," he said.
Initially around 10 people are being taken on from 250 applicants. The bank has a clear set of criteria in terms of experience but is quite open to any age or gender. If the demand for staff remains at the current level, the Bank will run a cross-training programme every three months for the time being.
Hawkins believes the industry is now paying the price for the lack of training and graduate recruitment during the late 1980s and early 1990s. RBS is doing its best to invest in the future now, with a graduate intake of 40 this year alone. It also has a pilot scheme for training 18-year old school leavers in IT skills.
However no 'Golden Handcuffs' are on offer to try to keep staff and Hawkins said he believed some analysts estimates that Cobol salaries had doubled over the last 18 months were unrealistic. He said he hoped the bank could create an environment in which people wanted to stay, along with being paid the going market rate. RBS currently has around 1,000 IT personnel.
The Bank is currently rolling out Windows NT and Hawkins said it could be feasible to offer similar cross-training schemes for other technologies but it would have to be a skill set in which the Bank required sufficient numbers of new staff.
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