IBM Systems

IBM and Open Mainframe Project Mobilize to Connect States with COBOL Skills

By Meredith Stowell, Vice President, IBM Z Ecosystem

In the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, our clients are facing unprecedented circumstances. Much of the world's critical infrastructure such as governments, healthcare, transportation, financial services and other major industries depend on IBM – which is why being of service to our world and the systems that power it remain our priority.

In particular, we know that for some states this is manifesting in processing a record number of unemployment claims and facing some temporary challenges. We’ve seen customers need to scale their systems to handle the increase in demand and IBM has been actively working with clients to manage those applications. There are also some states that are in need of additional programming skills to make changes to COBOL – a language that has been widely reported to have an estimated 220 billion lines of code being actively used today. These changes to the code are required to take into account the new parameters for unemployment payment eligibility, in a very short timeframe.

We’re closely working with these clients to respond to their needs and mobilize to find solutions to the challenges they face. IBM is proud to have worked over the past 24 hours with the Linux Foundation’s Open Mainframe Project to create three new initiatives to address the immediate and temporary need:

  1. Calling all COBOL Programmers Forum: a new talent portal where employers can connect with available and experienced COBOL programmers. This new initiative provides an immediate way to help connect professionals where needs arise – with skilled talent ready to get to work. This is open to those looking for employment, retired skilled veterans, students who have successfully completed COBOL courses, or professionals wanting to volunteer.
  2. COBOL Technical Forum - a new temporary resource being actively monitored by experienced COBOL programmers providing free advice and expertise during the crisis. This tool will allow all levels of programmers to manage issues, learn new techniques and expedite solutions needed as programmers alter this critical code.
  3. Open Source COBOL Training – a brand new open source course designed to teach COBOL to beginners and refresh experienced professionals. IBM worked with clients and an institute of higher education to develop an in-depth COBOL Programming with VSCode course that will be available next week on the public domain at no charge to anyone.  This curriculum will be made into a self-service video course with hands-on labs and tutorials available via Coursera and other learning platforms next month. The course will be available on IBM’s own training platform free of charge.

IBM has a long history of investing in mainframe skills. In addition to contributing to the Open Mainframe Project Community Forum and providing expanded open-source training, there are a number of initiatives that IBM has been participating in to address the continuous need for COBOL skills by our community:

  • IBM Z Academic Initiative: Through the IBM Z Academic Initiative program, IBM actively partners with over 120 schools across the United States located in the vicinity of our clients to integrate critical Enterprise Computing content into curriculum. These courses often include an introduction to COBOL.  Over 45 of these schools have specific courses dedicated to COBOL programming and more are added each year.  For example, Bergen Community College in New Jersey includes mainframe content in their curriculum in addition to having a vibrant, active mainframe student club.
  • Master the Mainframe: COBOL is also introduced through our Master the Mainframe program which reached 4,286 students from over 600 schools across the US last year.  No charge, COBOL e-learning courses are also available to academic students globally, year-round.
  • Mainframe Application Developer Standard: To help broaden the skill base, IBM has recently developed a Mainframe Application Developer standard in cooperation with a number of clients.  This standard is registered as an apprenticeship with the Department of Labor and COBOL training is incorporated into that standard to meet the demands of the marketplace.
  • A robust ecosystem of partners: COBOL training is offered globally through our ecosystem of partners.  For example, Interskill offers a significant number of e-learning courses and approximately 1,000 digital badges have been issued for COBOL.

In addition, we are also reminding our clients about IBM Talent Match, a service available to directly connect employers with demonstrated mainframe talent. Employers simply register with the Talent Match service to find ideal candidates by skills, verified IBM digital credentials, or location, and then review and connect with potential candidates after viewing their profiles and social media links.

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