MCDST: Defining Excellence

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In complex network environments, the ability to deliver high-quality help-desk support to end users is essential to smooth operations. But until recently, there has been no single universally recognized mechanism in place to help companies assess the skill level of their technical support people, and no single role-based curriculum that delivers the training needed to provide the knowledge that help-desk employees require. The new Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST) certification from Microsoft Learning is helping to close this critical gap.

MCDST certification covers the job skills for help-desk technicians, customer support representatives, PC support specialists, technical support representatives and technical support specialists, as defined by the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (www.nwcet.org). To earn MCDST certification, candidates must demonstrate the expertise to troubleshoot desktop environments running on the Microsoft Windows operating system.

A Certification Specifically for the Help Desk
The increasing focus on desktop performance and reliability has driven high demand for highly skilled help-desk professionals who can ensure that end-user desktop systems and applications are running at optimal levels. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, there are more than 500,000 computer support specialists in this country, and the job of computer support specialist is projected to be among the fastest-growing occupations through 2010.

Input from hiring managers and the industry at large made it clear to Microsoft that there was a significant demand for a standard for IT staff who support the Microsoft desktop. One illustration of the need for the MCDST certification came during beta testing for the new credential, when a group of senior help-desk professionals from a leading enterprise company took the MCDST exams. Only 30 percent of the participants were able to pass the tests. Those results are a strong indication that even the most experienced support staff may have significant knowledge gaps that could have a negative impact on company operations.

With so much pressure on hiring managers to stay ahead of the curve in terms of new technologies and new certifications for the IT professionals who support them, Microsoft made it a high priority to develop a certification that sets a standard for IT staff who support the desktop. Microsoft designed and developed the MCDST certification based on input from those who know the subject matter best—help-desk professionals and the hiring managers who employ them. The MCDST credential delivers a wide range of benefits, including increased first-call resolution, decreased time spent on the phone and increased information worker productivity.

The credential, available since early this year, provides an ideal entry point for people who are interested in acquiring the skills to establish themselves in the IT field. MCDST certification gives hiring managers a standardized tool for assessing the qualifications of new help-desk hires and existing support staff.

A Tight Fit
The MCDST certification was created to complement the broad set of certifications that Microsoft Learning already offers. Existing credentials provide important tools for measuring the knowledge and expertise of both IT administrators and solution developers. Other certifications focus on database expertise, end-user desktop abilities and even the knowledge and instructional skills required to deliver high-quality training to IT professionals and developers.

By adding the MCDST credential, Microsoft Learning now offers a truly comprehensive range of certifications that extend from developer to administrator to support technician and on to the end user. With the addition of the MCDST credential, companies that have invested in Microsoft technologies gain a complete set of training and evaluation tools and resources that will support their IT staff at every level. Such support ensures that an organization will be able to reap the maximum benefits from its investment.

Because help-desk technicians often work demanding and relatively inflexible schedules, the training options for the MCDST credential were developed to offer a great deal of flexibility to meet the learning needs and styles of prospective candidates. Choices include traditional instructor-led courses, self-paced training kits and e-learning.

To achieve MCDST certification, candidates are required to pass two core exams. The first exam focuses on troubleshooting issues related to usage, hardware, drivers, system performance and network connectivity for the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. The second exam centers on troubleshooting desktop issues related to configuring and maintaining Microsoft Office 2003, Microsoft Outlook Express, Microsoft Internet Explorer and other applications that run on Windows XP. After completing the training and certification, MCDST-certified professionals will be able to talk to end users about problems, isolate and troubleshoot issues, and propose and document solutions.

Rigorous Baseline Standards
The MCDST certification has quickly established itself as one of the industry’s most sought-after credentials. About 15 percent of the people taking the MCDST exams are new to IT. Historically, technical support has served as an excellent starting point for people interested in pursuing IT careers, and many higher-level IT positions are filled with people who got started on the help desk. People in this group of MCDST candidates clearly recognize that the credential is an excellent way to acquire some of the fundamental skills needed to enter the field, and to demonstrate that they are qualified to deliver consistently high levels of support to end users. As the credential becomes more widespread, it is expected that more and more IT departments will rely on MCDST certification when filling openings on their technical support teams.

For companies with complex network infrastructures, the MCDST certification is already delivering value. A significant part of the fast-growing demand for MCDST training comes directly from enterprise IT departments that require their technical support personnel to earn the credential. The training ensures that their entire support staff meets a rigorous set of baseline requirements that were developed to correspond with real-world conditions. MCDST training addresses the top 20 issues that help-desk technicians confront every day, so successful MCDST candidates should be able to handle 80 percent of the calls they receive. The training centers on real-world troubleshooting rather than knowledge of features, and focuses on helping users solve the problems they are most likely to encounter. The goal is to provide help-desk technicians with the expertise required to support common installation and performance issues in enterprise network environments.

To help companies make intelligent decisions about the level of investment that they should make in training help-desk personnel, Microsoft has developed a useful organizational assessment tool. The online tool makes it easy to develop a clear picture of an organization’s strengths and weaknesses to determine what level of training investment will have the greatest positive impact. For help-desk centers, using the organizational assessment tool in combination with pre- and post-support metrics provides a powerful way to measure the value of training and certification for the entire support team.

The MCDST credential is also expected to play an important role for companies that opt to outsource technical support services. Until now, evaluating the skill level that global support services organizations provide has been very difficult. MCDST certification gives companies a benchmark for assessing support services providers and ensuring

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