The shortage of technology skills has been highlighted as a hole that needs to be plugged, and programming in particular needs attention.
Ed Airey, product marketing director, COBOL, said: "The industry overall looks at the IT skills gap and there's material out there on that skills gap overall, but if you look at programming, which we see everyday, this is even more visible in most organizations, they are very concerned with where is the next generation of talent going to come from?"
As a language, 90% of Fortune 500 business systems are supported by COBOL. From a poll of academic leaders from 119 universities across the globe, 54% estimated that COBOL programming would increase or stay the same over the next 10 years.
"There is a vast number of folks who are retiring and leaving the industry, with not only the talent in programming and languages such as COBOL, but also taking with them the knowledge of how these business systems work, because most of them are based on COBOL," said Airey
Older programming languages such as COBOL and PL1 are heading the same way as Latin. But at least the dead language is taught in schools. Younger people need to be engaged with technology at an earlier age to get them interested in programming and coding.
Of the 27% confirming COBOL programming was part of their curriculum; only 18% had it as a core part of the course, while the remaining 9% made it an elective component.
Airey said: "There's certainly a role for universities and higher education here, there's a role for them to prepare the next generation with the skills, which is what you don't see a lot of today. The other side of this is changing the perception, particular in the younger generation, who we hope will aspire to a career in IT. Many of them seem to have a negative perception of certain types of programming or even IT in general, it's not considered attractive.
"What if we don't solve this problem?" asked Airey. "That is a real possibility and it will be a very expensive possibility for these companies if they have to rewrite their programming and applications to different languages. Essentially they end up with the same applications in a different language so there's not net game there from a business perspective.
"I think many will look to package solutions if they must to bridge the gap, but it they can't find the talent they either have to build the talent internally, which we have seen with organizations who have set up internships to learn COBOL or CICS or work on the mainframe so an internal training processes can get the productive. But that's not really long-term strategy, it's more of a stop-gap."