Cobol skills drought persists amid mainframe migrations

Enterprises struggling to fill demands for Cobol skills should consider an application modernisation program which could also pave the way for migration off the mainframe to an open system.

This month jobs portal Seek listed 36 roles requiring Cobol skills, including 25 full-time placements.

Cobol skills remain in demand among banks and govnerment departments, but the traditional mainframe platform is under pressure from modern Unix, Windows and Linux systems.

Local mainframe migrations include financial services firm IOOF, the Western Australia Department of Industry and Resources and the Australian Jockey Club.

According to software vendor Micro Focus, the Cobol skills shortage is affecting the whole industry — including itself — but that won’t change the strategic role of the language.

Micro Focus country manager for Australia and New Zealand Bruce Craig said some companies are even recruiting Cobol developers “out of retirement” and today’s students are used to GUIs, not green screens.

“Cobol remains strategic and is used by all types of mission critical applications like those in banking and telecommunications,” Craig said. “There are more Cobol transactions than Google searches every day and mainframe use is growing as people make more use out of them.”

Craig said mainframe use is growing in terms of the number of transactions being processed, not by server count, as organisations work to get the most out of their existing infrastructure.

“Our development environment is similar to Java and C++ and since it’s cross-platform companies can move Cobol applications to Linux or Windows.”

Micro Focus president for the Asia Pacific and Japan, David Taylor, said IAG New Zealand used the company’s software to migrate an application from a mainframe to HP-UX system and then to Windows.

Taylor said MBF is one case where its local operations are run out of a US mainframe because the local mainframe was not cost-effective enough.

“Cobol can ‘live-on’ with open systems without the mainframe,” Taylor said.

UK grocery chain Tesco is opening operations in Thailand and since it couldn’t justify a mainframe it chose a Linux platform, he said.

“Cobol needs better education programs as universities don’t really understand the language,” Taylor said, adding restrictions on 457 visas for people with just Cobol skills are not helping the shortage.

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