Next move: Where can a Cobol coder get new skills?

I am an analyst programmer with 30 years' experience of Cobol and a variety of 4GL and report writer tools on a range of...

I am an analyst programmer with 30 years' experience of Cobol and a variety of 4GL and report writer tools on a range of platforms. After being made redundant from local government in 1997 I looked at a career change but without success. I eventually found a fixed-term post at a university but this is to end shortly. I am looking for work but most jobs require skills I do not have. I would like to find an employer that could use my existing abilities while providing me with a chance to develop new skills. Where do I find them?

The solution

Large firms still need deep coding skills

It may sometimes seem that you are searching for the holy grail, but don't give up: there are enlightened employers out there. Get a couple of good agencies to help you in your search.

Your best selling point is your wealth of real development experience. Programming languages have moved on since Cobol but a lot of software houses and large firms still need people who can understand the underlying code. Many new entrants into IT have only ever used 4GLs and would be uncomfortable drilling down into the code to fix a problem.

You need to look at the larger organisations that traditionally use mainframes, such as banks and insurance companies. They have moved on to developing front-ends using 4GLs but many of their systems are still based on Cobol. Another avenue might be to look at contract work with schools or local authorities. Many local authorities have a "people bank" and will farm you out to whatever project is in need. That could provide you with some new skills while using your existing ones.

In the meantime, read all the computer press to gain a sound understanding of new ITtrends.

Solution by Tracey Abbott, divisional director, Zarak Group

The panel: MSB International, Best International, BCS, Computer Futures, Computer People, Elan, Reed Computing, Zarak Technology, E-Skills UK

E-mail your career questions to computerweekly@rbi.co.uk

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