With US states desperate for COBOL programmers, IBM is offering free training

Do you know how to code in Common Business Oriented Language, better known as COBOL? If you’re familiar with the programming language, which was first developed in 1959, several states struggling against Covid-19 are desperate for your skills.
CNN reports that states including New Jersey, Kansas, and Connecticut still use COBOL for their systems. With the sudden rise in unemployment, the local governments are struggling to process the vast number of claims.

Kansas was in the process of modernizing its systems, but the pandemic has put plans on hold, and while several other states were updating their benefits systems, these won’t be ready until next year.

“Literally, we have systems that are 40-plus-years-old,” New Jersey Gov. Murphy said over the weekend. “There’ll be lots of postmortems and one of them on our list will be how did we get here where we literally needed COBOL programmers?”

Responding to the demand, IBM has released a free COBOL training course along with a forum where those experienced in the language can assist agencies and employers in need.

COBOL is rarely taught to new programmers, who tend to focus on more modern languages such as Python—most of those proficient in the legacy language are between 44 and 55 years old. But the platform remains incredibly popular, especially in the US financial industry. A 2017 report by Reuters found there were 220 billion lines of COBOL in use, while 43 percent of banking systems were built on it, and 95 percent of ATM swipes relied on the code.

COBOL is also used in federal government agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Justice, and Social Security Administration.

The US unemployment rate has jumped from 4.4 percent one month ago to a record 13 percent, and some economists expect the figure to reach 20 percent. That’s putting a lot of pressure on the country’s COBOL-based benefits systems, and the dearth of programmers could cause even more problems.