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Articles > IT Employer Information - Certification is About More than Higher Pay
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IT Employer Information - Certification is About More than Higher Pay

Some experts say that technical certifications have lost their "value", but have they really?

Orignially published 2/5/07 in Network World's Technology Executive Newsletter .

By Linda Musthaler

My colleague Linda Leung has been writing quite a bit lately about the value of technical certification. See her original story, as well as her follow-up article, on the topic. And recently, Leung published comments from an HP executive in the certification business. Having read all these articles, I just have to throw my thoughts on the subject into the fray, too.

Leung's first two articles were based on a couple of Foote Partners quarterly reports called the Hot Technical Skills and Certification Pay Index. Foote Partners publishes this report on a regular basis, so the company is reporting on trends it observes over time.

The 2006 reports cited in Linda's stories suggest that technical certifications may not be as valuable as they once were. The problem is, these reports take a one-sided look at the value of certification. "Value," in this case, is defined as a certified individual being able to command a higher salary than someone who holds no credentials but does the same or similar work.

Foote Partners seems to have drawn the conclusion that because hiring managers are reluctant to pay a premium price for people who have credentials, the credentials aren't very important anymore. Here's an interesting quote from David Foote, CEO and Chief Research Officer for Foote Partners. "Certifications are becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of the IT world," he says. "It's not that employers aren't willing to pay a premium for them. What's happening is that for a great many certifications, the market price is nowhere near the levels of just one year ago. That kind of respect is now reserved for a broad variety of noncertified skills. In particular, enterprise business software, applications development, Web/e-commerce development skills, which are up an average 9% to 13% in value since this time last year."

So, Mr. Foote, I guess "respect" equates to how much money an employer is willing to pay a person?

I work with a lot of individuals who hold some sort of IT certification. While I won't deny that these people hope that their credentials will help them earn more money, a fat wallet isn't the only reason people pursue technical credentials.

James Del Monte, president of JDA Professional Services, is in the business of helping IT hiring managers find suitable candidates for employment. Del Monte's company screens hundreds of candidates each week. In his opinion, there are several reasons why IT professionals choose to get certified. "There's no doubt that people hope to increase their marketability by attaining credentials," says Del Monte. "Many people earn credentials in order to learn new or different skills and to round out their resume. For example, we see IT people earning project management or security certifications. This helps them grow into that 'well rounded' candidate that companies want to hire."

Del Monte also cites the desire for continual learning opportunities. "Credentials help a person keep up with and enhance his knowledge base." Some of the certifying agencies or vendors have annual continuing certification requirements, or CCRs, that encourage the certificants to update their knowledge in order to hold onto a credential. This is an easy and effective way to keep skills up to date, relevant to today's business needs, and in demand by employers.

With that said, Del Monte also believes that credentials alone are not enough. "You have to look at what the certification tells you," says Del Monte. "It says you have a basic body of knowledge, but it doesn't say what you are able to do with it. Experience is more important."

Michael San, a senior consultant at JDA Professional Services, has earned credentials from several vendors, including Microsoft, Cisco and HP. San says the credentials have helped him establish a closer relationship with the vendors so that he has access to support, tools and additional resources when he needs them. "Someone who isn't certified can only access the information that is available on the Web. It's not necessarily the best information," says San. "My status as a certified IT professional opens doors with the vendors. I have access to the best information on what works, what doesn't, and how it all works together." San's comments mirror those in this article.

San points out that the IT profession is one of few professions where there is no overall licensing or validating agency, as with the medical, legal or financial fields. Although IT certifications can come from many different agencies, they do represent a means to validate that a certified person has met a minimum standard for a set of skills and knowledge. Says San, "It's about proving what I know."

Perhaps Del Monte says it best when he concludes, "Certifications speak highly of the professionalism of a person, and his commitment to his profession." That kind of person, Mr. Foote, sounds like someone deserving of some respect.

Contact the author:
Linda Musthaler is a Principal Analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation.
To contact her click here.
To get more of Linda's views click here.

About Essential Solutions Corp:
Essential Solutions researches the practical value of information technology, and how it can make individual workers and entire organizations more productive. Essential Solutions offers consulting services to computer industry and corporate clients to help define and fulfill the potential of IT.

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