Preparing for the Job-Role Challenges Ahead

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Earning a vendor-neutral certification demonstrates mastery of the “whys” of a technical discipline. Earning a vendor-specific certification demonstrates mastery of the “hows” of a product category. Vendor-neutral and vendor-specific certifications should be integrated within all IT career paths because they are proof-points of depth and breadth of knowledge and mastery of best practices.

When employment demand for skilled IT professionals is high and the number of available workers is low, vendor-neutral and vendor-specific certification can be one of the key reasons a job offer is conveyed. This is occurring now in the area of security. When new jobs are scarce and the number of qualified IT professionals is high, employers take their time and look for a mix of experience, education and certification when making hiring decisions.

Previous experience, education and certification are fundamentally external to an employer. By this I mean that these three basics do not completely address the proprietary applications, systems and processes that are unique to an organization. IT experts believe that in the near future the larger employers will begin to develop company-specific certifications in order to have employees demonstrate mastery of internal systems. Large employers could use the template developed by certification sponsors—job-task analysis, development of objectives, item writing and computer-based exams—when developing their own certifications.

It is becoming clear, however, that the concept of company-specific certification will not effectively meet the wide-ranging needs of employers. Why? Business conditions change rapidly, and there must be mechanisms for swift internal adaptation to new strategies and environments. An effective staff development system must support the retention of institutional knowledge so that as employees retire or go on to other opportunities their contributions are not lost to the organization. Continual process improvement is dependent on an evolving mix of external education and certification as well as mastery of internal systems and processes. A certification-exam-based system cannot effectively satisfy all these needs.

An emerging alternative to company-specific certification is employer-based job-role credentialing. Job-role credentials would be similar to educational credentials, such as diplomas, certificates and degrees. The successful candidate would have to satisfy a broad array of requirements.

To be awarded a job-role credential, the employee would demonstrate that he had successfully met milestones that are current and relevant to that position. Milestones could be external, such as completing a continuing education course and earning a certification, and internal, such as successfully mastering a set of workplace tasks. Going through an internal apprenticeship also will likely be a requirement for a job-role credential because apprenticeships are a proven method of mastering best practices while retaining institutional knowledge.

To develop a job-role credential, employers would conduct an assessment measuring the current level of productivity, quality and service for an IT department or critical function, such as project management. The assessments would identify key knowledge areas that need to be more current and relevant to improve operational performance. Management’s allocation of funds for job-role credentialing programs will likely be based on measurable improvements to the big three of IT—productivity, quality and service.

Job-role credentials will impact educational institutions, commercial training organizations, certification suppliers and IT professionals by creating strong employer-centric demands in the areas of career development and support services.

It is not too early for the IT professional to use the emerging trend of job-role credentials for the benefit of his or her own career. Identify the job role you most want to move into and research the success factors that can lead to superior productivity, quality and service. Then, assess the relevancy of your current skill set. Wherever you find a gap in your skill set, begin to bridge it through a mix of education, certification and experience. Learn as much as possible about the unique conditions within a target employer’s operations.

When talking with employers, show them that you are prepared for the job role—namely, that you have current and relevant academic and industry credentials, hard and soft skills and the knowledge and experience to perform in that position. Have your certificates, academic records, letters of recommendation and other accomplishments compiled into an up-to-date, attractive “talking points” portfolio. Demonstrate to the prospective employer that you are prepared for job-role challenges—continuous improvements to productivity, quality and service.

John A. Venator is president and CEO of CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, the largest global trade association supporting the IT industry. CompTIA has more than 19,000 members in 89 countries.


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