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Is IT Certification Experiencing a Renaissance?

Here's Why

 

After several years of declining certification volumes, information technology exam programs are staging a comeback, with annual growth for the last two years that is continuing to trend significantly upward.  The reasons for this resurgence are plenty, and range from an increase in Internet-based delivery and enhanced focus on IT security to professionals' desire to distinguish themselves or increasing the likelihood of landing the perfect job.  Additionally, as the global movement toward IT competence grows, so too do the number of countries trying to remain competitive in the outsourcing market as well as the number of international professionals seeking IT certification.

Internet-Based Delivery

Prometric delivers secure, computer-based exams for all of the leading IT companies.  While most of these IT certification tests are delivered in high-stakes environments at Prometric's 3,000+ test center sites, certain areas of knowledge don't require the same high level of verification and can be tested in a lower stakes environment; this is where Internet-based testing (IBT) comes in. Taking tests via the Internet allows candidates to take an exam anywhere that has an Internet connection and a certified proctor, making tests available at thousands of additional locations.

IT Security

Another reason for the comeback in IT certification volume is the enhanced focus on security. With the attention of the public and the government it has been more important than ever to protect the integrity and confidentiality of information.  Corporations and government entities, to protect the public and their intellectual property, place increasing importance on the qualifications and skills of those people who have access to computers, information and data. Certain government directives, such as the U.S. Federal Department of Defense 8570 directive, have also helped fuel this growth. DoD directive 8570 states: privileged positions must be filled with personnel who have been trained and hold appropriate certifications with documentation that validates they are qualified for the positions they are hired for.

What's in it for professionals?

IT professionals are also helping to spur the renaissance in IT certification given their perceived value by employers. Individuals have realized, and studies have shown, that holding an IT certification leads to a better salary.  Redmond Magazine's 11th annual survey of compensation for Microsoft IT professionals, for example, found that in 2006, raises and bonuses increased for the third year in a row -- as have salaries, climbing 3.3 percent from last year.   In the past decade that Redmond magazine has conducted the survey the overall finding is that being Microsoft certified has had a positive effect on salaries.

Receiving a certification is also verification of having attained a certain level of knowledge and expertise. The last few years have shown a rise in specialized IT knowledge, and as a result, a shortage of people qualified to fill certain specialized positions.  College degrees are good at showing a topical education level, but they often do not dig deeply into actual situations or fixing actual technology problems. It's one thing to claim that you know how to do something; it's quite another to hold up a certification as proof.  Anyone involved in the IT industry, from computer users to back office specialists, knows the value of having a "help desk" to call when needed.  End-users and employers alike are likely to feel more confident with the IT help they are receiving if they feel that the person helping them has the right abilities to get the job done correctly.

Along the same lines, all other things being equal, employers are likely to believe that the job candidate with a certification is more qualified to handle the job than one without.  Professionals who hold IT certifications hold more of a bargaining chip when trying to get a new job and when trying to negotiate salary, title and other issues.  This "edge" in the job market is positively impacting certification growth.  Many employers of IT professionals use certification as a pre-requisite for consideration in hiring and often view a certification as proof that a job candidate knows what he/she is talking about.  IT professionals have taken notice and often hold more than one – and sometimes as many as 20 or 30 – unique, differentiating certifications.

Once in a job, receiving additional certifications and developing new skills can push an IT professional up the food chain.  Companies are placing increased importance on a well-trained and "up to speed" IT workforce. Multiple certifications give the IT professional additional and stronger qualifications when vying for a promotion or advancement in a current position. If promotion candidates "A" and "B" are competing for the same position, it is likely that the person who has spent additional time and money on professional development, and thus increased their skill set and knowledge base, would be better suited.

International Growth

As companies have fallen under increased pressure to keep overhead costs down, some have turned to outsourcing to supplement in-house IT support. As American companies increasingly outsource help desks to India and other countries, an IT certification would seem an obvious and clear-cut way of determining which firms are qualified and experienced enough to handle the business efficiently and effectively.

One challenge with outsourcing IT help internationally is that there are often different standards, varying by country, of what level of knowledge is acceptable in obtaining a position.  Increasingly, U.S. companies looking to outsource IT support are requiring certifications as a way to level-set global standards and equalize expertise across borders. Because many U.S. companies and outsourcing firms are requiring a certain level of knowledge – and proof of it –many organizations are trending toward insisting IT professionals outside the U.S. become certified.

Additionally, professionals seeking jobs at outsourcing firms are turning to certifications as a way to offer face-validity and differentiate themselves from other candidates. In a 2006 study by Brainbench, India was found to have the second highest level of overall certifications in the world, behind only the U.S.   Increasingly, the market for IT workplace skills and competencies is going global, and with globalization, the need to set and adhere to knowledge standards is becoming stronger.

On an international scale, as the world of globalized technological expertise grows, the need to staff outsourcing centers with qualified professionals grows as well, sustaining increased and longer term demand for qualified professionals.

In Summary

It seems clear across the board that IT certifications are experiencing a strong comeback, thanks to multiple factors that place increasing importance on differentiation of skills. For the professional, it offers immediately recognizable proof and credibility to their skill sets, a foot in the door when trying to land a new job and a significant advantage in career advancement.  Companies that hire certified IT professionals benefit substantially by realizing shorter and less frequent server downtimes, productive help desks and less reliance on third party support.  The more corporations and management teams realize the cost efficiencies of keeping certified professionals among their staff, the more the demand for these skills is increasing.

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