Get Real, Get Certified
Every segment of developed society is dependent on information and communication systems. IT professionals are at the heart of the operational effectiveness of these multifaceted systems.
Certification is the computing industry’s method for developing competency standards and identifying the men and women who have mastered those standards as professionals. Today there are millions of certificate holders worldwide, more than 600 IT certifications and a global certification infrastructure that includes training organizations, community colleges, universities, courseware developers and testing centers. Yet more can be done to help ensure that IT certification rises to a new level of achievement. Here is a call to action for the certification community:
- To develop job-task standards and consistent job titles leading to improved synergies between certifications.
- To create standards that improve certification portability.
- To formulate strong, consistent and valid statements about the value of certification.
- To sustain the effort to increase employment opportunities for certified professionals.
- To create a program to stimulate continuous improvements for information and communication systems by increasing the number of trained and certified professionals.
Job-Task Standards and Consistent Job Titles
Since its inception, IT certification has been primarily concerned with pieces of the information and communication system. There is the Cisco piece, the IBM piece, the Microsoft piece, the Novell piece, the HP piece and the Red Hat piece. The list can go on indefinitely. And then there are the vendor-neutral pieces like PC troubleshooting, baseline networking, database management, project management and security.
The certification industry’s infrastructure has had little choice but to follow along supporting the pieces. The problem is that most jobs require more than a slice or two of knowledge. The workplace demands a wide range of hard and soft skills acquired through education, certification and experience.
To take IT certification to the next level of success will require a concerted effort to put the technology pieces into an overall context of a progression of IT jobs that are aligned into career paths. Universal skills standards linked to jobs and career paths would greatly assist employers, educators, IT professionals and certification developers. There would be a common set of standards to plan for and work toward.
Greater agreement on job-skills standards should help reduce the unrealistic expectations that some employers have when they seek to fill an open position. At the same time, acknowledged job-task skills will provide a clear map for the IT professional who is preparing for the next job.
The industry can work toward a stage where there will be greater uniformity in approach between certifications that are essentially aimed at the same job level. This could help reduce redundancies and make the task of preparing for the next certification more consistent and straightforward. This would not only reduce the cost of the certification development process, but it would also give greater focus and relevancy to each certificate.
Standards That Improve Portability
Managing a portfolio of certifications is not easy. If the IT professional wants to send proof of certification to a current or prospective employer, he has to copy or scan the certificate and forward it. That works well for one or two, but how about a career’s worth of certificates? Holders of multiple certifications also have to stay on top of recertification requirements, which can include taking a new exam every two or three years or acquiring continuing education credits.
One criticism often heard from employers is that they don’t know which of their employees are certified and which aren’t. It seems to be as difficult for the employer to manage a portfolio of certifications as it is for the individual.
All of these issues fall under the heading of portability. Portability refers to the ease of moving the proof of certification to a current or a prospective employer. There are now a number of electronic systems being examined to solve this problem. Obstacles to creating a standard for portability include the cost of a “universal” certification management system, the issues of privacy and confidentiality and of the integrity and security of each certification provider’s database. While it may add an additional layer of complexity, it would be helpful if a universal certificate management system also included a way of storing and verifying academic credentials and continuing education credits.
If the industry is going to help boost the employability of certificate holders, it is going to have to do a better job of recognizing the need for greater portability of credentials. It must offer an easy, consistent way of managing multiple certifications. A system of virtually instantaneous verification of credentials, both IT certification and academic, would be an important step forward. A viable system would have to protect the privacy of records and ensure that the individual is in control of her records. The portability problem will be solved, but requires a unified effort, focus and funds.
The Value of Certification
The IT certification industry must do a better, more effective job of communicating the goals of certification and the value to the organization of employing certified personnel. IT professionals, in particular, need to have a clearer understanding of the value certification offers. A great deal of the cynicism surrounding certification has come from misunderstandings about what certification can and can’t do for a career and for the overall information and communication system.
There needs to be a concerted industry-wide effort to accurately measure and document the impact on job performance by those who are certified compared with those who are not. Credible research must also measure the differences in system performance obtained by departments that have a majority of trained and certified personnel. “System” in this context includes such areas as networks, repair depots, help desks, application development, project management—all of the various functions supported by IT professionals.
Business leaders, educators, IT professionals, government representatives and members of the media should have easy access to this research. The certification suppliers and the support infrastructure must find ways of ensuring that trained and certified professionals have the wherewithal to keep the workplace and system improvements ongoing. This means continuous improvement in education, training and certification development.
With uptime, customer satisfaction and quality documented by research, employers will clearly understand the value of paying for training and certification. This will also lead to an increased demand for certified professionals. The value of certification is the heightened, positive contribution that the IT professional can make to an organization. It is up to this industry to document these improvements and to have consistent, credible statements of the value of certification.
Increase Employment Opportunities for Certified Professionals
Hand in hand with improved communication of the value of certification must come efforts led by the IT industry to increase employment opportunities for certified professionals. Are we talking about department-level mandates for personnel to be certified, as well as apprenticeships? Yes! Everything is on the table right now for exploration, including awareness- and interest-generating activities such as trade-show booths, advertising, brochures, Web sites and stories in the media.
Many companies now require most if not all of their IT professionals to be certified.