IT certifications, which experienced a sharp decline for the past several years, are staging a comeback, with annual growth for the past two years trending significantly upwards. There are many reasons for this reemergence of certifications, ranging from more accessible forms of test delivery to IT professionals' desire to distinguish themselves in a talent-saturated field. Also pushing certifications back to the forefront of IT is the continued popularity of outsourcing IT skills, with more and more businesses requiring that outsourcers demonstrate a certain level of IT competency, often through certifications.
The Internet: Accessibility and Popularity
While most IT certification exams continue to be delivered at secure test centers operated by third-party administrators like Prometric, certain areas of knowledge do not require a high level of security. These exams can be taken via Internet-based testing (IBT) and can be administered at nearly any location with a certified exam proctor and an Internet connection, expanding the reach of these certifications to thousands of additional locations.
IT Security: Unlocking the Door for More Certifications
A renewed focus on IT security has contributed greatly to the revitalization of certifications. With more and more high-profile data losses and breaches occurring across both the public and private sectors, information integrity and confidentiality have become more important than ever. The qualifications and skills of individuals charged with the protection of this data are now highly-scrutinized by corporations and government entities alike, making IT security certifications an easy way to validate proof-of-skill in the data protection arena.
Can IT Professionals Afford NOT to Certify?
IT professionals must now ask themselves: Can I afford NOT to be certified? The perceived value placed on certifications by employers is obvious, and recent studies have shown the depth of this emphasis. 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 the previous year. In the past decade that Redmond has conducted the survey, the overall finding is that certifications, in this case specifically through Microsoft, have had a positive effect on salaries.
Certifications show verification of knowledge and expertise as well. The need for specialized IT knowledge has risen over the past few years with rapid advances in technology, resulting in a shortage of professionals qualified to fill positions requiring these narrow skill-sets. College degrees show an individual's topical education level, but do not dig deeply enough into real-world, practical skills and knowledge to show how a potential employee would deal with a particular technology issue or problem. For this reason, incorporating performance-based testing into an existing multiple choice exam is an effective complement. Claiming knowledge of a given field is one thing, but even better is being able to hold up a certification as proof. Clients and employers alike are prone to feel more confident with the IT expertise received if they feel that the person helping them has the right abilities to get the job done correctly.
Along the same lines, employers are likely to believe that job candidates with an IT certification are more qualified than candidates without. IT certifications can prove to be an effective bargaining chip when job hunting, especially when faced with non-certified competition, as well as when trying to negotiate salary, title and other issues. This "edge" in the job market positively impacts certification growth. Many employers of IT professionals use certification as a pre-requisite for hiring consideration and often view a certification as proof that a job candidate knows their field. IT professionals have taken notice and often hold more than one – and sometimes as many as 20 or 30 – unique certifications.
Certifications do not stop working in the candidates favor after hiring, however. Pre-existing or newly gained certifications show that the candidate takes initiative to grow and learn. Similarly, development of new skills can help push an IT professional up the promotional ladder once in a position. If promotion candidates "A" and "B" are competing for the same position, it is likely that the candidate who has spent additional time and money on professional development, and thus increased their skill set and knowledge base, would be selected. The increased importance placed by employers on a well trained and up-to-speed IT workforce makes certifications invaluable to professionals in these instances.
The Third-Party Component: What Does Certification Mean for Outsourcing and Nearshoring?
As companies have fallen under increased pressure to keep overhead costs down, some have turned to outsourcing, either domestically or abroad, to supplement in-house IT skills. As companies increasingly turn to outsourced data centers for IT support, an IT certification would seem an obvious and clear-cut way of determining which datacenters are qualified and experienced enough to handle their business efficiently and effectively.
One challenge with outsourcing IT is that there are often different standards, varying from industry to industry and region to region, of what knowledge level is acceptable in obtaining an IT position. Increasingly, companies looking to outsource IT support are requiring certifications as a way to level-set standards and equalize expertise across borders and industries. Because many organizations are requiring a certain level of knowledge – and proof of it – outsourcing companies and domestic datacenters alike are insisting IT professionals become certified.
The End Result of the Renaissance
Across the board, all signs point to IT certifications experiencing a strong comeback, thanks to multiple factors placing greater importance on validation of skills. For the professional, it offers immediately recognizable proof and credibility of their skill sets, a foot in the door when trying to land a new job and a significant advantage in career advancement. Datacenters hiring certified IT professionals benefit substantially by having a third-party validated knowledge base, which can lead to a better industry reputation and, therefore, more customers. The more the cost efficiencies of keeping certified professionals on staff are realized, the more the demand for these skills will increase.
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