An Important Time for IT Professionals
At the CompTIA Strategies North America IT training conference in New Orleans this year, the mood of participants was–in a word–upbeat. Commercial trainers said they were seeing an increase in demand. Public- and private-sector organizations are now funding a broader array of IT projects. The need to train personnel to operate and support these systems follows in the wake of these new investments. At long last, attendees said, the training industry is turning a corner. An audience poll showed that 47.1 percent of attendees anticipated a revenue increase for their company of between 5 percent and 15 percent in the next year.
One striking fact was that attendees were not describing the increase in demand as a return to business as usual—a focus on courses or e-learning. Rather, they spoke about the public and private organizations’ emphasis on productivity. Organizations, it seems, are looking for outside partners to develop solutions that enable personnel to quickly and effectively optimize these new systems.
This perspective on learning is light years away from having a schedule of classes or a list of e-learning courses. Instead, attendees focused on the identification of different methods of learning that can be employed to increase productivity. The National Information Technology Apprenticeship System (NITAS) model–instructor-led training, e-learning, documenting on-the-job skills mastery, mentoring and certification–was described as a learning process ideally suited to productivity improvements.
What does this discussion about training and productivity have to do with the certification community? Plenty. This new direction integrates certification into the skills mastery and validation process as never before. For management, it reinforces the connections between blended learning, skills validation through certification and productivity.
When IT certification first came into its own, the certificate was seen by the individual as a ticket to a good job and by IT managers as proof that the individual was qualified to work on the system. Certification was the end point of a training process. The job market was expanding in the early years, and those who earned certification, in more cases than not, went to the head of the line.
Over the past few years, increasing global competition, tightening markets and shrinking budgets have put enormous pressures on chief information officers to improve the effectiveness of the IT systems under their charge. Shaving costs was an imperative, so CIOs hired fewer IT workers. With the internal stakes so high, each new hire needed qualifications that exceeded anything previously required for the position. Employers not only wanted to see multiple certifications, but also demanded extensive experience; academic credentials; related business, communication and project management skills; outstanding references; and a track record of success. Many job hunters felt that employers were asking for the qualifications of two or three people, not one.
The pressures to improve the bottom line through effective IT systems continued to increase. Cost-cutting and hand-picking employees only went so far toward achieving those results. End users are coming to realize that new ways of fulfilling the productivity mandate have to be employed.
Here is the point: IT certification at the foundation level will continue to be a door-opener to positions–the “must have” set of credentials that validates the individual’s mastery of a set of vendor-neutral industry standards and vendor-specific operational details–and a reliable predictor of employee success.
Going beyond the basics, however, certifications will increasingly become validation milestones along a road of continuous improvement. That process will be measured, evaluated and compensated based on productivity gains, featuring a regimen of training, skills mastery, mentoring and validation through certification.
Certification is being woven into the fabric of this profession as never before and is contributing to the maturing of IT. With this maturity comes the recognition that those in IT stand on the same plane as doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants and nurses, in terms of professional development, validation and importance of the profession to the advancement of modern society. It’s been a long journey to this point, but I believe the best is yet to come. I can’t think of a more important time for this industry or for the dedicated men and women who keep these vital systems functioning at peak productivity.
John A. Venator is president and CEO of CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, the largest global trade association supporting the IT industry. CompTIA has more than 19,000 members in 89 countries.