Why? Not because it's an old language, not that it can't do the things they need it to do, but because it has become too hard to find RPG programmers. More specifically, it has become even harder to find RPGers who are willing and able to do modern things.
We responded with the same suggestion that we normally do (and we have done here in the blog before. If you can't find RPGers, look for a PHPer (or Java or .Net or a ...) who seems to have a business mindset (vs. wanting to write games or the next Facebook application) and teach them RPG and DB2. If you stick to /Free and other modern RPG practices--at least in the beginning--our experience has been that they not only learn RPG easily, they actually quite like the simplicity of the language. After they are hooked on RPG, then you can (if you must) gradually show them the ancient-style code that you almost certainly still have lying around the shop.
This idea has been used with great success in a number of IBM i shops. However, to our knowledge anyway, they have tended to be relatively large shops where there were a number of people who could share the mentorship role. In this specific case, we're talking about a relatively small shop. So the time commitment to not only teach the RPG language to the newbie but also to mentor them in the intricacies of IBM i, DB2 for i, etc. would require a very signifiant proportion of the shop's developer resources. And that's a problem.
Schools in the the IBM Academic Initiative program rarely seem to teach RPG these days. This is mostly because, as we blogged previously, even when they graduate RPG-literate students, too many potential employers still insist on three to five years' experience. But, even if all of the school programs were as successful in turning out RPG literate graduates as our friend Jim Buck at Gateway Technical College, the time it takes for students to graduate from such programs is longer than some of our clients can wait. They need to build their five-year plans today--before their existing programmers hit retirement age--and they can't build a plan simply based on the vague hope that there will be RPG programmers around to replace those staff.
A dilemma to be sure. What's the answer? We wish we knew, but increasingly we think that this is an area where IBM, perhaps in conjunction with their business partners, needs to take a lead. There are a lot of unemployed folks out there who have extensive business experience. Many of them probably did some programming with TRS-80, Commodore 64s, IBM PCs, etc. in their youth. Maybe--just maybe--they are a resource that could be tapped to help fill the programmer gap. But it will need an initiative from someone of the stature of IBM to make it a reality and ensure that "graduates" of such an initiative would be able to break through the insane experience barrier that so many shops erect around their hiring process.
Have you encountered this problem? Come up with and solutions of your own? We'd love to hear about them through comments to the blog.