IT Industry Addresses Evolution of Certification

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As the IT industry goes, certification follows. With employers demanding not only more and better IT skills, but also an improved means of demonstrating them, Neill Hopkins, vice president of skills development at CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, and a member of CerMag’s Editorial Advisory Board, foresees an evolution in the nature of certification programs.

“If I want to be a network expert, what does that mean?” Hopkins asked. “Am I going to have a Microsoft cert, or a Cisco cert or an IBM cert? Well, it’s none and it’s all of them—that’s the specialty within that track. It’s not all about the cert; it’s all about the skills you need to be successful.”


Thus, more and more certifications will be complemented by a more inclusive skills track, he said. CompTIA, which provides vendor-neutral certifications for IT professionals and counts Microsoft, Cisco and IBM among its members, has already begun to move in this direction. “We are basically reacting to what our members really need,” Hopkins said. “The comment coming back from our membership at large is that (certifications) need to evolve into something more comprehensive. We’re working with our membership to see where we go next.”


“As CompTIA starts to develop its new skills solutions, we see a lot of effort behind the development of comprehensive skill solutions from the IT individuals themselves,” he added. “We have what we’ve termed ‘foundational’ certifications leading into other certifications. The move you’re going to see from CompTIA will be comprehensive skills solutions leading into skilling solutions for the customer. That may mean that we might include things like on-the-job learning validation. We also may include medium- to low-stakes assessments leading up to the certification.”


A good prototype of how such a skills development program might look is the National IT Apprenticeship System (NITAS) initiative. NITAS provides IT workers and students with a customized “lifelong learning” path, and uses training and coaching records, hours of experience and certifications achieved as credentialing criteria for each person. Major companies like McDonald’s and IBM have already signed on to the program. “We need a skills-validation process,” Hopkins said. “NITAS delivers it. This is exactly the information we’re getting back from our membership. They’re saying, ‘It’s great.’”

Hopkins said that as procedures to support and verify professional knowledge and skills are tied together, the bond between the two has to be cemented for further improvement of both. “Certifications validate knowledge, and the NITAS program validates skill when looking at the on-the-job learning component. As we move forward, we’ve got to combine those somehow.”


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