The Coming Skills Crisis
October 1, 2008
It won't matter which environment serves your organization: In the next 5-10 years, there's going to be a drought of information technology workers on hand. Even in a rocky economy the world is likely to face through the rest of this decade, HP says IT has lost its sheen.
That's because of the retirement of the baby boomer workers, although recent developments could keep a lot more of the old-timers from easing into hobbies and arm-chairs. Micro Focus, which makes its living off a redoubtable tool of great worth in the 3000 world — COBOL — reminds us of this while it touts the durability of the language. The Micro Focus ACTION program gets COBOL back onto college curricula.
With more than 70 universities worldwide, the ACTION program has seen a new member university join each week. This will help balance the potential “IT skills crisis” that some expect as baby boomers retire.
The HP 3000 community sports plenty of gray hair and seasoned faces, but its members also possess a skill that seems in scarce supply these days: Application know-how, learned from the user base. Alan Yeo of ScreenJet took note of the lack of youth in the business world where he plies his trade, supplying migration tools and expertise and keeping 3000s modern by moving their apps out of the VPlus screen era.
"It's almost as if there's nobody out there under 40 who you can ask about a Bill of Materials system design," he said while checking in with us recently. "I'm not just talking 3000s. If we were talking 3000 application people, fair enough. But even when you talk to these people running apps on IBM, Unix, Linux — they're old, too."
Being old has been an epithet as long as people have counted birthdays, but the world is now counting on the older IT skills generation to steward the knowledge of how to count out inventory, corral materials and tally up trends in commerce. Coding and creating Web tools is one skill. But knowing your way around an enterprise application is something of a higher order.
"There aren't any young people in applications who are involved in business systems," Yeo said. "They're coding for Web sites, but most of them don't have a clue of what goes on behind them."
ACTION is proof enough that a select set of skills vendors want to preserve the value of skills the 3000 community continues to practice. There's even a COBOL Web ring — a durable concept that leads from one resource to the next on the Internet. You can keep up with all things COBOL at www.webring.com/hub?ring=cobol