Few will argue that it’s difficult to find the right candidates for IT jobs today. Several forces are threatening growth and heightening the competition for talent.
One of these forces is the growing IT skills gap. However, according to Gartner, the current shortage is very different from the one experienced during the dot-com squeeze. That one involved an insufficient number of professionals with technical skills and domain-specific expertise. Today’s shortage involves a lack of IT pros with universal qualifications, relevant experience and business insight whose focus is on understanding and managing business processes and technology.
Why are these professionals in such high demand? Surveys suggest most large companies are looking to increase their competitive edge through various transformation programs, and they see IT as a vehicle by which they can do that. However, in a hurry to capitalize on technology, many companies are implementing new platforms without ensuring employees are using features correctly.
Effective training and certification not only prepares businesses for transformation, but also helps maximize their investments. According to an IDC report, less than one-third of employers screen job applicants for proficiency in Microsoft Office. They also don’t validate existing employees who spend up to 80 percent of their workday on this platform, according to an IDC white paper. As innovative businesses around the world already are learning, the new frontier of competitiveness lies in understanding and effectively developing these relevant skills.
Leveraging a New Office System
With the release of Microsoft Office 2007, businesses have the potential to leverage a new set of features and functions for improved productivity. However, while Office has changed little from a usability perspective during the past decade, Office 2007 is a radical shift that will require training time. According to an August 2007 study from Forrester Consulting, most new users will require two to three hours of formal training followed by a two- to four-week period of decreased efficiency while they get accustomed to the new product.
Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint and Outlook incorporate a new ribbon interface instead of the menu bar in previous versions. While this change is intended to improve the user’s ability to operate and uncover features in the system, it also has become more challenging for the average worker to use. For example, prior versions of Word featured only about 100 commands, while Word 2007 boasts more than 1,500 commands, many of which are difficult to find because they are buried in layers of menus. For this reason, untrained employees could cost the organization thousands of dollars in lost productivity.
Advancing Employees With the Skills to Contribute
Developed using feedback from professionals who create, distribute, share and use information as part of their daily jobs, the new Microsoft Certified Application SpecialistMicrosoft Office Specialist (MOS) credential. Candidates who successfully complete the program by passing a certification exam show they can meet globally recognized performance standards. (MCAS) credential from Certiport is a globally recognized standard that validates skills with the 2007 Microsoft Office system and the Windows Vista operating system. The MCAS is the successor to the
Certiport’s performance-based testing uses specialized examination software while simultaneously running the actual Office 2007 programs. The MCAS uses “live,” or real, applications to provide the most authentic evaluation of knowledge, skills and abilities. The Microsoft Office system can address business needs ranging from personal productivity management to complex project management.
Focus on Proficiency
Although business migration to Office 2007 is expected to be slow, in a recent Forrester study, 48 percent of companies indicated they will deploy Office 2007 in the next six months. While many of the advanced features of Office 2007 likely will not be used by the majority of users, organizations committed to the Office suite undoubtedly will make the move at some point, and it is important to understand the impact of this transition. Imagine the financial ramifications for companies that migrate in one fell swoop, as work grinds to a standstill.
When thinking about migration training and certification, it also is important to consider certifying select groups of individuals. Many corporations are staggering migration to offer clusters of employees the opportunity to train and then transition into experts who will become a resource for other employees. Certiport’s research finds that early adopters create a built-in support staff that prevents IT technical support workers from becoming overwhelmed.
An example is the training provided for Capgemini Energy in Dallas. Looking for a corporate solution that would lay the groundwork for trainers to become experts in Office 2003 prior to internal training and eventual Office 2007 migration, Capgemini implemented a two-step process that would lead to specific individuals becoming Microsoft Office certified.
First, after assessing the initial skill level of employees in terms of the certification exam objectives of a given Office application, Capgemini provided customized training focused on skills gaps. This training was delivered in both self-paced and instructor-led formats.
Second, using post-training assessment tools, Capgemini determined when an individual was ready to prepare for certification on an application using practice software. By using this software, the worker can master the majority of the Office application features by repeatedly performing randomly selected tasks in a timed exam environment.
Using this step-by-step training and certification process, Capgemini was able to increase employees’ efficiency.
Certification to Boost Productivity and Effectiveness
There is substantial anecdotal evidence that certification enhances an individual’s productivity and effectiveness in the workplace. And now there’s research to prove it as well. In a study of 14,000 Microsoft Office-certified workers and 1,200 of their supervisors in North America, the United Kingdom and Japan, 85 percent of supervisors said Office-certified workers are more productive because of their certifications, and 86 percent of supervisors said Office-certified workers are more credible than noncertified employees.
As the new Microsoft Office system has evolved from a suite of personal productivity to a more comprehensive and integrated system, mastery of these core business information tools and processes quickly is becoming a key differentiator. The MCAS program validates the ability to perform on-the-job tasks quickly and efficiently. It also provides verifiable skills and credentials that can translate into new career opportunities, expanded leadership potential and more meaningful contributions within an organization.
Because certification vastly expands the application knowledge of the typical user, those who certify their knowledge of current applications will be able to carry much of that knowledge over to the new platform. The next generation of Microsoft certifications will give users the opportunity to certify their skills on new technology and propel organizations to a greater success as information workers become better-equipped to achieve optimum business results.
Julie Allen is the Microsoft programs manager at Certiport. She has 19 years of technology product management and marketing experience with companies such as Sybase, Novell, Microsoft and 3M. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.