Certifications Versus Skills

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IT certifications are still valuable in the job market, but they don’t enjoy the lead they once had over non-certified technical skills in terms of premium pay and demand, new research from Foote Partners LLC shows. According to the company’s statistics, a single certification now accounts for about 8.3 percent of base pay, whereas a single non-certified skill comprises 7.1 percent of income.


“I think certifications have taken a real hit lately, and predictably so,” said David Foote, CEO and chief research officer of Foote Partners. “We saw this a year ago, but we didn’t want to report it until we had the data. We saw that over the past six months, from a growth perspective, they’re really losing ground. But they’re still worth more.”


Of course, there are exceptions to this general trend. High-level certifications from the Project Management Institute, ISACA, (ISC)2 and the SANS Institute—as well as specialist credentials like those for IBM WebSphere and Cisco’s Voice technologies—are still highly regarded, and the people who have them are well compensated. “Some of them really matter a lot,” Foote said. “Just try to get a job at the director or manager level in security. You probably won’t.”


Foote pointed out that the popularity of certifications is a relatively recent phenomenon, one that came about as a means of justification for technology investments during the hard times earlier in the decade. “During the recession, it was very different. You were in a situation where companies’ purse strings were really tight and if you wanted to justify increasing someone’s pay to retain them or hire some people, some bean-counter would ask, ‘Why should we do it?’ You could say, ‘Well, they’re certified. They’ve taken a test.’”


But by and large, the certification industry is afflicted by a tendency to set the bar lower that it ought to be, which Foote blamed squarely on the profit motive. “The whole certification industry exists because vendors want to sell products,” he said. “That’s why it all started. They don’t necessarily want to make it really difficult to get those certifications if they’re vendor-dependent. If they’re vendor-independent, there’s a lot more interest in making those certifications gold standard—otherwise, how are you going to compete? Those are the ones that exist solely on their quality.”


To stay relevant in the minds of employers, certifications will have to further align to specific job roles and technologies, Foote said. The exception to this is the new wave of IT architect, guru-type credentials, which are comprehensive by definition. Yet, in spite of any alterations, there will always be some employers who are enthusiastic about IT certifications and some who aren’t. “Ultimately, employers have to decide what the measure of a good person is,” Foote said. “Is it taking a test? Is it going through a live lab? It really comes down to whether you’re an employer that values that, or doesn’t value that. It’s a cultural thing.”


For more information, see http://www.footepartners.com.

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