The most compelling aspect of the human network is how it’s changing the way people connect with one another through communications infrastructures. As the network’s role expands to encompass areas such as IP telephony, video, security and wireless solutions, the pace of change reveals a pressing need for more qualified network technicians at basic and advanced levels.
A recent study commissioned by Cisco and conducted by research firm IDC found that in every major geographic region, there is a significant shortfall between the supply of qualified professionals and the demand for networking skills. In some regions of the world, demand exceeds supply by up to 40 percent.
Without well-trained people to implement new technologies, companies and individuals cannot enjoy the vast benefits of organizational and personal productivity.
Addressing the Skills Gap
This skills gap is a serious problem for many reasons. Most customers today want to deploy video, “telepresence,” mobility, unified communications and other technologies that enhance collaboration and reduce the cost of travel. These technologies and services are provided through a strong, highly secure network of routing and switching.
As the wave of technology adoption increases at growth rates of 15 percent to 35 percent, customers need to hire many more engineers to design and install networks for their companies.
Network upgrades are at an all-time high as companies prepare for the next wave of productivity services. Companies and network integration partners that do not have these skills will fail to meet their end-users’ demands, which ultimately affects their business’ competitiveness and growth.
For example, IDC estimates advanced networking technology could grow by 18 percent in Europe next year. Yet, we are not seeing 18 percent more networking engineers enter the industry.
Those who are trained to fill this gap can reap the rewards of being in a career with tremendous opportunity and a huge demand for their skills, with no slowdown in sight.
The IDC study also showed that emerging markets face the highest demand for advanced networking technologies. And although mature markets in Western Europe face relatively narrow personnel gaps, they require the latest networking technologies, which necessitates advanced training. Staying current with the most recent product innovations enables companies to preserve a competitive edge and support new services that run on the network infrastructure.
Cisco’s popular and highly regarded Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) skills-building program has long served as a milestone for qualified networking technicians. Having the CCNA signifies a technician is prepared for a wide range of job titles, including associate network technician, network specialist and associate network engineer.
As the world’s networks continue to grow in technological complexity to include unified communications, IP video and converged applications, a CCNA’s skills have kept pace, opening up room for a new credential at the entry level — a recent Cisco survey found that resellers, enterprise customers, service providers and technology support organizations all found value in a certification below the CCNA level.
Cisco-authorized learning partners worldwide are similarly enthusiastic about the new certification and the markets it will address.
New Entry-Level Certification
In recognition of changing market needs, Cisco has revised its introductory networking certification and testing program to map to real-world employment requirements. The Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician (CCENT) certification focuses on the development of basic network configuration and verification skills, as well as the skills required for positions such as help desk technician and technical support assistant. The certification program’s goal is to cultivate a core of skilled networking technicians worldwide.
The CCENT is an accessible point of entry for people beginning a career in networking. It certifies the skills required to successfully install and verify small routed and switched networks, and it is an optional first step to the CCNA certification.
In addition, a CCENT certification presents clear evidence of a commitment to professional development, and it gives candidates access to the worldwide community of certified professionals.
Changes to CCNA
Along with the introduction of the CCENT certification, Cisco also has made significant enhancements to the CCNA curriculum, expanding it to include a wider range of networking topics, as well as a tighter focus on performance-based skills. The CCNA curriculum provides students with the knowledge and skills to configure, operate and verify midsized routed and switched networks. Enhancements include broader coverage of security and an introduction to wireless terminology and concepts.
Certification is the practical link between skills acquisition and a successful career in technical networking. The CCENT learning path consists of the first half of the requirements for CCNA:
- Required Exam: ICND1 640-822
- Recommended Course: Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices, Part 1
The recommended course provides foundational networking knowledge and hands-on lab exercises. It prepares students to install a small network — including at least one router, switch and wireless area network (WAN) connection — and to implement basic security measures. The curriculum also introduces basic wireless local area network (LAN) concepts and terminology.
An individual certified as a CCENT would qualify for jobs such as help desk representative and assistant network technician who could, for instance, install and maintain PCs, servers, racks and cabling.
A CCENT candidate who wishes to acquire further skills can proceed to CCNA certification, which focuses on a comprehensive understanding of networking fundamentals. The CCNA is also a prerequisite to earning higher-level Cisco career certifications and specializations.
Part 2 of the recommended course curriculum extends the participant’s skills to include configuration of midsized networks, advanced protocols and troubleshooting. The complete CCNA learning path is as follows:
- ICND1 640-822 and ICND2 640-816 or
- CCNA 640-802 composite exam
- Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices, Part 1 (five days)
- Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices, Part 2 (five days)
The second course, ICND Part 2, extends topics introduced in Part 1 to teach students the tasks involved in implementing a midsized enterprise branch network with multiple routers, switches and WAN connections. Knowledge and skills are developed through hands-on practice and labs.
To assist candidates in their preparation for the CCENT and CCNA certifications, Cisco’s CCNA Prep Center is available to any candidate with a Cisco.com login. The center offers a variety of resources to accelerate learning for candidates, including practice questions, labs, simulations, advice, learning games, success stories and online discussion forums.
The expanded CCNA curriculum contained in ICND Parts 1 and 2 became available Aug. 1, as well as the ICND1 and ICND2 exams, the CCNA comprehensive exam and the CCENT certification.
With its rich history in providing learning paths and resources for technical-skills building, Cisco is poised to address the worldwide skills gap. The company’s strategy is to develop a life cycle of learning, beginning with the knowledge needed for an entry-level technical position and continuing with more-advanced skills as the individual’s career progresses.
The goal is to provide a steady flow of qualified network technicians to the marketplace that parallels the continued rollout of new technologies. This underscores Cisco’s view of the increasingly critical role of networking technology in supporting business processes.
For those just entering the networking field, certification provides improved preparation for entry-level employment and superior training, the opportunity to differentiate skills to potential employers and, perhaps most important, a first step toward a lifelong career.
For those with work experience, certification provides continued skills development and the opportunity to advance and move in new directions. For employers, a better-prepared candidate at every level reduces business risk, improves productivity and maximizes technology investments.
For more information on CCENT, CCNA and Cisco’s other career certifications, visit www.cisco.com/go/certifications.
Lora O’Haver is product portfolio manager for Learning@Cisco. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.
Read more about CCENT and other Cisco certs with CertScope. From previous CertMag articles to a variety of industry Web sites