Frankly Speaking - Adventures in Tech Apprenticeships

Episode 05 – Growing Your Own Tech Talent, Gary Fusco, Technology Director, M&T Bank

Episode 05 – Growing Your Own Tech Talent, Gary Fusco, Technology Director, M&T Bank

What do you do when you can’t find enough talented tech workers? For Gary Fusco from M&T Bank the answer is, grow your own. Based in Buffalo, New York, M&T Bank was struggling to find enough tech workers for their IBM zSystems Platform team. And they were facing impending retirement for some of their most experienced team members.

As Technology Director, z Platform & Middleware Engineering & OPS, M&T Bank, Gary discusses how M&T collaborated with IBM to become one of the first employers to implement the IBM Z Apprenticeship program, delivered by Franklin Apprenticeships, to attract talent from non-traditional sources to the bank. M&T is now supporting its third cohort of tech apprentices and planning to start recruiting for its fourth cohort this summer. Gary reflects on the journey and what M&T Bank has learned along the way.

“What I really love about this program is that it is very targeted to what these individuals need to know for these roles on the Z platform. It’s been a journey and no journey is ever done,” Gary explained. “We are doing everything we can to help them be successful… a lot of the success from the program is due to feedback from the individuals. It’s a continuous improvement loop.”


Gary Fusco, Technology Director, z Platform & Middleware Engineering & OPS, M&T Bank

Gary J. Fusco is a Senior Vice President / Technology Director responsible for managing the z Mainframe and Middleware Engineering organizations in the Technology Division at M&T Bank.  In this role, Gary is responsible for managing all account transaction processing along with various software products that support Mainframe processing at the bank.  He is also responsible for managing the Corporate Data Centers in the United States as well as technology infrastructure that supports the bank’s European footprint.

Gary is the ambassador of the z Development Program at M&T Bank and has been a speaker at the IBM Executive Panel for Skills of the Future to attract, retain, and grow z Mainframe  Talent. He is also an acting member of the IBM-GDPS & BMC Executive Mainframe Software Councils.

Gary is a 1983 graduate of Canisius College where he obtained his Bachelor of Science in Management and minor in Computer Science.  His experience includes over forty years in various technology functions. Gary is active in the Town of Tonawanda community by volunteering his time on the Technology Board at St. John the Baptist’s Grammar School in Tonawanda.  He is also on the Board of Trustees at St. John the Baptist Church.  He also belongs to Resource Group Charters at M&T Bank, being Intergenerational Resource Group (iGen) and Wellness Resource Group.

Frankly Speaking – Adventures in Tech Apprenticeships was produced by Franklin Apprenticeships, a woman-owned tech apprenticeship company on a mission to unlock the potential of the American workforce. Franklin offers apprenticeships for a range of tech roles, such as cybersecurity, help desk, IBM Z, network engineering and software engineering.

Help us spread the word about tech apprenticeships by leaving a review and telling a friend about our show. And don’t forget to subscribe to be notified of new episodes.

Transcript: Franklin Speaking, Episode 5, Growing Your Own Tech Talent with Gary Fusco, Technology Director, M&T Bank

[00:00:00] Gary Fusco: All of these individuals that are part of this program, they’re excited, they’re thankful, and they want us to feel proud. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll go on a one-on-one with these individuals, and they’ll say, “We want to make you proud because you took a chance on us.” It gives you chills in your spine when you hear things like that, and people saying that, because you feel like you’re doing something good, and the bank’s doing something good here. 


[00:00:29] Announcer: Welcome to Frankly Speaking, the podcast that explores how tech apprenticeships really work. As a Franklin Apprenticeship Professional Success Coach, our host Cable Rose gives us an insider’s view from the real people and businesses who are using tech apprenticeship programs to develop the technical skills that the American economy so desperately needs. 

[00:00:54] Cable Rose: Welcome to this episode of Frankly Speaking; Adventures in Tech Apprenticeships. My name is Cable Rose, I am your host and uber-fan of all things tech apprenticeships. Here today with us in studio, we’ve got Gary Fusco. Gary’s coming to us from the great state of New York. He is with M&T Bank. Gary is the Senior Vice President z Mainframe Platforms & Middleware Engineering and Operations. Gary’s been in IT for quite a few years. Gary has quite a passion for both IT, IBM, mainframing, and of course, the banking industry there with M&T. Gary, welcome to the show, sir 

[00:01:32] Gary: Thanks for inviting me. Glad to be here. 

[00:01:35] Cable: Well, Gary, let’s do some background. What is your background in the IT realm? How did you end up where you are today? 

[00:01:42] Gary: Wow, it’s been a long journey. I’ve been doing this technology gig for a better part of 30 years. Started up in various operational ranks in my career. I went full-time to school at a local college, and ultimately graduated, and ultimately part of the senior management team here at M&T. 

[00:02:05] Cable: Senior management at M&T. I had to go take a peek at your LinkedIn, you know, I’m going to make sure I know what I’m getting myself into. I saw in the ’90s you were in the operational side of the house. What did that look like on a day to day for you? What were you doing as a manager of the operations at that point? 

[00:02:21] Gary: In the ’90s, a lot of the applications that we would run in our financial institution were mainframe-based. A lot of it was around bad scheduling, monitoring system failures, system availability, a lot of the things that were the heartbeat of actually our business communications to our end clients. Making sure that systems were available, balances were updated with current information. Then ultimately, it was all about making sure system availability was there for our branch network and other channels of our business. 

[00:03:01] Cable: Okay, so in the ’90s, it sounds like you’re in the trenches, right? You’re seeing it from the, literally, point of view of what’s running and what’s operating, and what’s being pushed, and what’s being run. You’re in the trenches, you’re seeing it day to day, what was your manning like? What was staffing like in the– Well, I don’t know if that’s the heydays, that’s the dotcom era. I don’t know if the dotcom was ever a big thing for an IBM Z realm. What would that look like for staffing back then? 

[00:03:26] Gary: Well, the staffing was 24 by 7, 365, holidays, weekends, were all things that we had to support in the core operations. Making sure, ultimately, our applications never went off the air, or we would want to try to maintain that as best we could. 

[00:03:47] Cable: I’m just thinking about it. People, sometimes, today think they know what IT is, they think they know what IBM is, they think they know what it takes to run a mainframe, or run a large corporation. You said it right there, 24/7, 365, weekends, nights, holidays, it didn’t matter, somebody’s there, somebody’s working, somebody’s making sure all those ones and zeros are aligned, right? 

Do me a favor, in the next 30 years, so let’s take that journey. Now you go 30 years down the road. You and I have a little bit of wear on ourselves. We’re a little bit wiser for the wear. Here we are, we’re in 2023. What kind of challenges do you see? What kind of business challenges do you see on a day-to-day right now for trying to solve an IBM Z? Why did you bring the IBM Z apprenticeship into the M&T realm? 

[00:04:34] Gary: Well, it’s twofold. The dependency on the Z platform has continued — back in the ’90s and even today. The ability to have data available at a moment’s notice for any client of the bank that wants to see their balance, wants to see if a check cleared, or I want to see a check image. The digital evolution has really put a big onus on our Z platform here at the bank because that’s where our main deposit application actually resides on. The ability for our digital clients to consume that information at a moment’s notice, at any time of day, doesn’t matter, is really what’s made our Z platform continuing to be one of our cornerstones of our processing environment at the bank. 

[00:05:30] Cable: I love it. I never even thought about that, just at a moment’s notice or a keystroke. I click, and I want to see that information, and I’ve got to have it processed and brought to the screen. I never even thought of it that way, so that’s interesting, Gary. The idea that you’ve got men and women literally just– literally that’s what they do, they’re working for data. They’re pulling data, finding data, processing data, and putting data where it needs to go to make sure we have it when we need it. How does that look though for staffing? 

Okay, so staffing in the ’90s, it was people who were coming into the realm. I do believe, if I’m not mistaken, from other clients, talking with IBM as well, there’s a great population of senior techs that have been with IBM, or they’ve been with the bank for whole careers, and now it looks like there’s a gap in what’s next. How do we get the next generation in there? How did that Z apprenticeship benefit you into trying to bring in more people? 

[00:06:30] Gary: It was one of our large business challenges. It was the fact that we had tenured people, they’d been doing this, and they love doing it. They got a passion for it, and that’s great. We’re really wanting to do that, and advocate that holistically, but we didn’t really have a good feeding ground for talent and a succession planning for some of these people that had been doing this type of technology, or this type of engineering roles on the Z platform. 

We started to have some conversations with IBM a few years back, and others to say, “Hey, how are other IBM large Z customer clients addressing this?” We had a number of sessions, a number of conversations because a lot of this technical information is not being taught in the universities anymore. A lot of the technical curriculum was– To have a program like, and we do have a program that is like technology development program, when we go out to four-year colleges and things like that to attract talent and things like that, but a lot of the talent that were coming in were not mainframe-based. 

We had to identify an opportunity, or a pipeline of talent to bring into the organization, to really start building some succession planning around some of those people that have been doing it for 30 years, like you said, Cable. We had the conversations with IBM and Franklin, and they were awesome conversations, and rolled up our sleeves, and understood, “Hey, how can we, together, work on this business opportunity, and understand a non-traditional pipeline of talent into M&T Bank, working with IBM, and Franklin Apprenticeships?” We’re super-excited, I’m super-excited. I can talk about this forever. 

[00:08:35] Cable: That’s why I got you on the show, Gary. 

[00:08:39] Gary: They usually give me the hook at the bank when I start taking, because they know I’m pretty passionate about what I do. It’s just great for the people. It’s a great opportunity for the people coming through the apprenticeship, and it’s no small task, by any way, shape, or form. 

[00:08:56] Cable: Yes. I do love that, the collaboration that Franklin and IBM has had, as we’ve met with our clients, and find out what does it look like? What needs are we filling? How do we help those strategies at these tech companies? How do we align with that? I’ve got a question though, it always makes me wonder, and I love you said, “Non-traditional.” You’re absolutely right. I don’t have any college degrees. My car broke down in front of an Air Force recruiter’s office, and that’s how I joined the military. It wasn’t a planned event, it just happened. 

When you start looking at these things, and you start looking at all of the options that are out there, like you said, you used to look at, and you still probably look at the four-year colleges. You still have a plan to go into those things, but why does apprenticeship align with things like– or how does it look different, or the same to boot camps, or to some of those recruitment when you go to the colleges, when you look at what those internships are out there, how does the apprenticeship align with some of those other ones? Either the same or different. Does it look any different than some of those? 

[00:09:55] Gary: Some are the same, some of it is different. In fact, we do have boot camps here that we run occasionally. We do have internships here at the bank. I think where I see the greatest value with the apprenticeship is very targeted. It’s targeted on the IBM curriculum, it’s targeted on the different roles on the Z platform, application developer, and CIS admin. It’s really what I will call in-depth immersive training in those specific areas to build your knowledge and expertise of the Z platform where you go to universities and some of it is general studies, some of it’s technical driven. 

What I really love about this program is that it’s very targeted on the things that those individuals are going to need to know for the different roles on the Z platform. I see some great value in that targeted learning. Now again, it’s immersive. They go through a pre-apprenticeship program, over 200 hours. They take a pre-apprenticeship certification test to make sure that they’re knowledgeable enough to come to M&T and Franklin interviews them and prepares them for interviewing, and then ultimately, we go through an interview process here at the bank and bring in candidates in a cohort. 

It’s funny because there was actually an individual who came to M&T in the existing cohort that we’re in right now that actually took a boot camp and during the boot camp, they learned a little bit about the ZDP program, and they said, “Hey, I want to know more about that.” They went out to Franklin, read up on the apprenticeship program, and then they ultimately went through the pre-apprenticeship and the person’s on the ground now and part of cohort three at the bank right now working in the CIS admin space. 

[00:11:53] Cable: Gary, I love that story because you’re telling us right there, obviously, M&T has found something and I want to hear what that is. You found something because you’re on your third, and I believe there is a projection for down the road, but you’re on your third cohort, and we’re talking a good group of men and women coming into this talent pool, and each time it’s gotten better. Do me a favor, again, everything we do, there’s going to be some learning curves and some adaptions and what were some of the things you’ve seen over the last few cohorts that have gotten better each time with all of it, the process the talent, the managers, whatever? 

[00:12:30] Gary: Well, it’s been a journey, but no journey is ever done. We’re always tweaking and changing the program. We started our first cohort in March of ’21. Ultimately, we had a graduation last year, celebrating the success of those group of ZDPs that finished their Franklin and IBM curriculum. The way we have the program built here is, it’s actually a two-year program. The first year is the Franklin study, the Franklin IBM studies, and on-the-job training. It provides them the ability to learn and then apply as they go through on-the-job training. 

We feel that’s a pretty good mix. Then year two is all on-the-job training. All the things that M&T does, all the different roles and responsibilities, guidelines, standards, all of those things that apply to the specific role that you’re going to fill at the bank. Then after year two is done, you ultimately go into what we’re calling your appropriate job architecture family. Could be application developer, it could be system administrator, it could be CICS developer, it could be all of those different things. That’s how we’ve aligned the program. 

Year two, our second cohort started in December of the same year, and we learned a little bit from that. We got other areas that have Z roles and responsibilities like our operational teams that are working where I started. Actually working on the floor and monitoring the system and operating the system. Definitely another couple areas, other areas are requiring Z talent and the same refresh succession planning that a lot of the other roles have. Cohort two, we actually took advantage of that, brought in additional candidates for that program, and then we created a buddy system. 

We said, “You know what? Why don’t we take the people that are in cohort one and let’s use them as buddies in cohort two, they’ve walked a mile in their shoes, so they can help and guide?” Again, along the way, a big thing that we felt very passionate about, and I still do, is we’ve created mentors and managers for every single ZDP. There’s a one-for-one relationship of a mentor and a manager, two ZDP individuals. Everybody learns different, Cable, everybody learns at a different pace. The outcome from diverse varying backgrounds, which is awesome, and what we’re really trying to promote here at the bank as well. 

We really wanted to create an ecosystem for these individuals. We’re doing everything we can to allow them to be successful. I would also meet with them when they started for the first three months on a bi-weekly basis. Again, not circumventing what the mentors or managers were doing, but how can I help? How can I help? Is it something about the bank that you want to know more about? Is it something about the program? 

I just wanted to offer my services to be an available resource for these individuals because we’re throwing acronyms at them, we’re throwing technical information at them, and honestly, they’re treading in water. They’re heads above water and there’s only so much you can consume at one point. That’s what we did with cohort two and the buddy system I thought was something that really worked well. Of course, cohort one continues to remind me that they didn’t have a buddy when they went through the system. 

[00:16:20] Cable: Of course they do. 

[00:16:22] Gary: I apologize for that. 

[00:16:23] Cable: Well, you got to start somewhere, Gary. You got to have a baseline and you got to have a start. We call that return on your investment. That’s a standard acronym ROI for any businesses, but if you look at those men and women that came in in cohort one, if I can give you some feedback, Gary, let me give you some feedback. Your men and women from M&T are making an impact all throughout Franklin and to all our other clients. You probably don’t know this. 

We have a subject matter expert from IBM on Fridays, and all of our apprentices are given the opportunity to come in and sit at this session. The session is going over the learning and over the framework that all apprentices have and it’s a mix of everybody with the subject matter expert. I can tell you, your cohort one and your cohort two apprentices, as they’re in those groups, those are the men and women who are engaged. They’re the ones that are actively participating and giving feedback to Paul or giving feedback to the group. 

They’re the ones going in and they’re making that a much more enriched learning experience. I believe it’s because of, again, the learning that they have at M&T, the support that they have at M&T. You said they’ve got managers and mentors assigned to their cohort. Gary is on, “Hey, I’ve got my first three months. Tell me what’s on your plate. How can I make this better?” If you have an ecosystem, and I’m going to use a different word, and I’m going to use one of the words that your guys are using there and trying to do and are doing at M&T, you’re building a culture. 

That’s exactly what your leadership and all of you at M&T are doing is you’re building a culture of support, growth, career progression, learning, everything. I’m going to tell you, it’s making an impact across the board, Gary. I don’t know if you know that, but your cohorts, as you guys have taken some of those best practices and grown, we’re taking those to other clients and saying, “Hey, this has worked at other places. Maybe you can try some of these steps because we’ve seen the success that y’all have had there at M&T.” 

[00:18:28] Gary: They’re not a shy bunch. 

[00:18:29] Cable: They’re [laughs] 

[00:18:29] Gary: You know what I mean? Honestly, some of the success of the program or a lot of the success of the program is really the individuals providing feedback to me and the program team. What’s working, what’s not working? Cohort two, we realigned and shuffled some of the curriculum and moved things up and moved things back to allow them the right learning based on the role and responsibility that they were going to be doing at M&T. 

Again, it’s a feedback loop, that continuous improvement loop that in our first cohort, I told everybody we’re learning just like all of you. We don’t know what we don’t know. Franklin provided a lot of great feedback. They reinforced some of the things that we were doing and said, “That’s a really good practice.” There are some things that they offered to say, “Hey, you may want to think about this.” Then ultimately, one of those was a byproduct of our career day that we just ran before our third cohort. 

It was our first career day. IBM came on-site. Franklin came on-site. A lot of the people that were in the previous cohort, cohort two, actually spoke at that career fair. I spoke a little bit at the career fair before I got the hook, but ultimately, it allowed people in the audience. We had a good group. We had probably 40 people come, which was, for our first career fair, I was pretty excited about that. I thought it was really great because people could then talk about their experience, not only in the program, but at the bank. 

What the bank is all about. The culture at the bank, how we invest in the community, how we’re looking at our approach towards helping with community service and the bank offers 40 hours of community service every year. To go and help certain organizations. That could be Meals on Wheels, that could be the Food Bank of Western New York. It’s just cleaning up some parks and things like that. It’s just a great opportunity for M&T to continue to give back to the community that we’re so much ingrained with and excited to be part of. 

[00:20:48] Cable: Well, I will tell you, Gary, it is showing not only from the success of your– You’ve got men and women moving clear across the country. You’ve got people coming from sunny California to move to Buffalo, New York. That’s quite a commitment to come up there, but they come because they believe in what you’re doing and they can see it from 3,000 miles away. They can see what y’all are delivering. I don’t know if you’ve heard the podcast with Oscar, one of yours from Oscar. Oscar talks about that first day when he walks in and what it’s like. The experience is just– again, he wasn’t really just talking about Mario Cart and the fact that you guys got a game room. 

He wasn’t talking about that. He was talking about the experience of coming in and feeling welcomed and feeling excited for his job and feeling excited for his career and where that was going. Then 12 months later, as he’s getting ready to graduate, just the way that they hold their head up a little bit higher, the way that they’re excited about where they’re going in the future. Gary, you all are doing exactly that, not only for M&T but for, like you said, your community and especially for the men and women that are a part of your program. I will tell you, I know why I saw your badge. Were you an IBM Z16 day speaker? 

[00:21:58] Gary: Yes, I was. 

[00:21:58] Cable: I know why you’re a speaker because you’re a very good speaker, Gary, and you’re very thoughtful in what it is you’re trying to portray and what you’re trying to actually get across. I appreciate you being with us here and doing exactly that, giving us your insight and showing us exactly what it is that M&T and what Gary and what the bank does, and filling into what you all are bringing to the world. I love it. 

[00:22:23] Gary: Yes. The opportunity for these young men and women just doesn’t stop at Z either. I mean, there’s opportunity. The tech organization is very much focused on continued learning. All of these individuals that are part of this program, they’re excited, they’re thankful and they want us to feel proud. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll go in a one-on-one with these people and these individuals and they’ll say we want to make you proud because you took a chance on us. 

It gives you chills in your spine when you hear things like that and people saying that because you feel like you’re doing something good and the bank’s doing something good here. We just want to continue to evolve and we want to continue to make it better each and every cohort. We’re learning from these young men and women, what’s really important? How do we need to focus these things? Are there different things that we should do in a different cadence? 

Some of the feedback that we had ultimately was with our last cohort. They mentioned that it was great to start in November, but December came around and vacations had. It was like, we are here and then all of a sudden some of our mentors or managers weren’t. We took that feedback and you mentioned, yes, we’re starting to talk about cohort four. We originally would do them on an annual basis, more towards the winter months or in fourth quarter but we’re actually talking about accelerating that and I think we’re going to probably look at August. 

[00:24:02] Cable: I love it. 

[00:24:03] Gary: Again, it’s really a byproduct not of me or the program team. It’s of those young men and women that you’re referring to. Their excitement, they’re willing to just dive right in, learn as much as they possibly can. In fact, I was talking to one individual on a one-on-one the other day and again, the individual just had started in November and he’s almost 70% complete in the curriculum already. It’s like, wow, that’s a pretty nice achievement. 

Then it’s a true testament to Marlon and what he’s doing as a success coach from Franklin. I view the success coach at Franklin an extension of my team or our team here at M&T. It’s so critical for that success coach to build the right mentoring, the right relationship with all the ZDPs, and again, from varying degrees of backgrounds, diversity, all kinds of different things that it’s not one size fits all. Being able to navigate that and learn and still allow those people to learn in the rate that they can and they feel good about it, is so important to us. It’s so important to them. 

I hear it all the time. I say I meet with them every other week for three months, and then we go to monthly. It gets sad when they say, “Gary, I don’t really need to talk to you anymore. I’m okay.” I’m like, “Really, you don’t want to talk to me anymore?” No, but I’m just tongue and cheeking it. Yes, there’s so much ingrained in the program and wanting to make a difference. That’s the big thing that I’ll tell you about these young men and women that are coming in, is that they want to make a difference. 

What we’re trying to do, and we’re trying to stress to them, is that they own their career, they own their growth. This is an opportunity that we’re going to present you with, but it’s really up to you on where you want to take it. It’s an exciting journey, right? Like I said, our first cohort are going to graduate out of the two-year apprenticeship program later in March. We’re excited about it. 

Like you said, we have another graduation coming up for cohort two that are going to be graduating because they’ve completed the IBM and Franklin training. Hopefully, we’ll get the CIO and the Chief Diversity Officer there to be a guest speaker again like they were at our first graduation. We’re really excited about the journey, but the journey never ends. 

[00:26:34] Cable: I agree. 

[00:26:34] Gary: We’re going to continue to add additional cohorts along the way as long as these young men and women continue to show the enthusiasm. We see the benefits of the apprenticeship program working with Franklin and IBM. 

[00:26:50] Cable: Gary, I appreciate that. It’s a huge statement of both efforts and success and everybody involved and everybody being a part of this. I agree. I think that’s a great collaboration. I agree. Based on the men and women, and you said it, each one learns at a different rate. They learn it a different way, a different background, but they all want to put their spin on what it is that they’re doing. Yes, everyone is in control of their own career. I always think of it like this, it’s a vector. It’s just an opening scaled vector. It just goes anywhere. You guys, you got the hat on and off you go. I think that’s a great one. 

Gary, thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing your thoughts today. We appreciate your time, we appreciate your insights, we appreciate your efforts you’re making there, right there in the Buffalo community. To everybody out there listening, we appreciate y’all listening to another episode of Frankly Speaking – Adventures in Tech Apprenticeships. I am Cable Rose. Don’t forget to like and subscribe. Get all of your podcasts right directly to you as each new episode drops. We’ll see you on the flip side. 

[00:27:51] Announcer: Thank you for listening to Frankly Speaking – Adventures in Tech Apprenticeships. This podcast was produced by Franklin Apprenticeships, a woman-owned tech apprenticeship company on a mission to unlock the potential of the American workforce. Franklin offers apprenticeships for a range of tech roles such as cybersecurity, help desk, IBM Z, network engineering, and software engineering. Help us spread the word about tech apprenticeships by leading a review and telling a friend about our show. Don’t forget to subscribe to be notified of new episodes. 

[00:28:29] [END OF AUDIO] 

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