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The Coming Skills Crisis

COBOL still stands in center ring

The most prevalent language on the HP 3000 is among the oldest in computing. But COBOL is still the glue that holds together the world's business computing. A language conceived in the 1960s remains the most often used tool for applications built in the 1980s, tested in the 1990s and carried through Y2K — and still out-executing anything else.

MicroFocus touted this fact this week when the company announced a milestone in its academic adoption program for the language. The firm's Academic ConnecTIONs (ACTION) program has surpassed 50 US academic institution members. The ACTION program focuses on COBOL and core IT skills training and provides member universities with free access to the latest technology and teaching tools for enterprise application development.

Micro Focus never released a version of its language tools for the HP 3000. But the company acquired Acucorp, makers of the AcuCOBOL GT development suite. Acucorp had begun to offer an enhanced COBOL environment for MPE/iX when HP announced its pullout from the HP 3000 marketplace.

No matter. COBOL applications continue to perform in the center ring of the IT circus, even as languages like Java and Ruby steal the sideshow attention. Putting COBOL into schools gives the center-pole of the business tent a chance to prop up careers of IT pros from a new generation. How popular does COBOL remain? Micro Focus reminds us that every day, businesses execute 200 times as many COBOL transaction than Google searches.

Micro Focus is making an effort to put COBOL back onto the curriculum of schools worldwide. Consider that IT skills are in decline across the industry, with far fewer college students choosing any computer career at all, development or otherwise. Computers were once cool in school, back in the days when COBOL didn't hear sneers.

The ACTION program "provides member universities with free access to the latest technology and teaching tools for enterprise application development. This helps connect enterprises with young developers equipped with essential COBOL and related skills."

In a release issued today, Micro Focus quoted the chairman of the Texas A&M University Kingsville Information Systems department:

We recognize that the majority of enterprise systems running today rely on applications written in COBOL,"said Dr. Richard Aukerman. "It is important that we offer our Computer Information Systems students a complete curriculum and focus on all the technologies they will need to work effectively within an enterprise. We continue to see a demand for COBOL-skilled workers, and the Micro Focus ACTION program enables us to provide our students with the skills that will be put to real use when they enter the business world.