The Value of Certification for IT Professionals

The rapid evolution of technology makes it difficult to pinpoint "the next big thing," but the outlook for information technology (IT) employment remains promising. Technology permeates every sector of the economy. From manufacturing to retail, healthcare to agriculture, and financial services to education, technology helps to make products or deliver services faster, better and more efficiently.

Technology-intense industries require highly skilled workers. IT training and certification serve a vital role in helping to meet the demand for skilled technical workers. This is further confirmed by the international research firm IDC, which expects worldwide certification revenues to grow by an average of around 5 percent over the next few years. In some critical areas, such as security and networking, growth rates will be much higher. Millions of individuals around the world hold IT certifications. Collectively, IT professionals spend millions of hours preparing for certification exams. In all, significant resources are devoted to IT training and certification. In 2009, CompTIA, the leading non-profit trade association for the worlds IT industry conducted a survey of more than 1,500 IT professionals worldwide to better understand their reasons for obtaining an IT certification and how it has affected their careers.

The survey revealed that the typical IT professional holds an average of 1.2 industry certifications, while 17 percent of those surveyed have three or more certifications.

The survey revealed that the typical IT professional holds an average of 1.2 industry certifications, while 17 percent of those surveyed have three or more certifications. Workers employed by IT companies and by government entities are most likely to be certified, but individuals employed in other industries also reported a high level of certification.

The profile of certification holders reflects the diversity of IT jobs. Among workers in the CompTIA study holding a certification, the data suggests that slightly over half of the holders have a four-year college degree or higher. Among those with a college degree, about half of them majored in a science or math, with computer science capturing the largest share (31 percent). The study also confirmed that certification helps many individuals enter the IT field through a nontraditional path. For example, many with a business degree (21 percent) were able to boost their career prospects through complementary skills. These nontraditional path certification holders serve an important role in the IT workforce.

Certification Drivers

Like many career-related investments, economics remains a key driver of IT certifications. Professionals investing time and money, not to mention the opportunity cost of the investment, expect a financial return. Eighty-eight percent of certification holders in the CompTIA survey indicated they pursued a certification to enhance their résumé. Additionally, 50 percent use certification to facilitate a job or career change. Economics is important, but its not the only reason for pursuing a certification. Personal growth also factors heavily into the decision. An identical 88 percent indicate that personal growth is a major or minor reason in their decision to pursue a certification. This confirms that many professionals are truly committed to the IT field and take pride in developing their skills and showcasing their expertise. Perceptions of value are shaped by real world examples and firsthand experiences. In the area of promotions, bonuses and other economic benefits, about half of certification holders have a positive firsthand experience. Fourteen percent of certification holders receive a salary increase, while nine percent received a promotion. Additionally, 19 percent receive some other type of recognition, such as acknowledgement among peers for the accomplishment or other benefit such as time off.

IT professionals knowingly and in some cases unknowingly use what they learn from certification preparation long after the actual exam. Overall, 82 percent of the IT workers surveyed by CompTIA said the certification materials they learned are relevant to their job with 44 percent using the material on a regular basis in the workplace.

Beyond the development of technical skills, IT certifications often produce more well-rounded employees. Nearly one in four certification holders believe they have better customer skills. Thirty percent of the holders feel certification enhanced their productivity directly, but the bigger positive impact to productivity stems from more insightful problem solving (47 percent). This is a situation where the employee may not fully realize the benefits of the knowledge gained from certification preparation, but it certainly has an impact on the workplace.

Top Ways IT Certifications Impact Job Performance

  • More insightful problem solving - 47%

  • Abilities to understand new or complex technologies - 37%

  • Improved career advancement opportunities - 31%

  • Higher productivity - 30%

  • Higher customer satisfaction - 23%

  • Better communication with co-workers and clients - 23%

Source : IT Training and Certification: Insights and Opportunities, CompTIA, August 2009 Read More

Future Outlook

With a rapidly changing technology landscape, on-going training and education is not a luxury, but a necessity. This certainly applies to IT workers, but also to virtually any knowledge worker

Interest in pursuing future certifications reflects perceptions of usefulness, market demand and potential ROI. The greatest number of IT certification holders expects to pursue additional training in the area of security, and related fields of ethical hacking and computer forensics. Given the growing reach of security (threats continue to become more pervasive and dangerous). It makes sense that many IT professionals view this as a must-have for career advancement or even job maintenance.

Interest in Pursuing Certifications over the Next Five Years

  • Security - 37%

  • Ethical hacking - 18%

  • Forensics - 13%

  • Green IT - 7%

  • Healthcare IT - 5%

  • Mobile technologies - 5%

  • Software-as-a-Service - 2%

Source : IT Training and Certification: Insights and Opportunities, CompTIA, August 2009

Technology demands people who possess the right skills to make it work properly. Moreover, these skills continually evolve. For economies to take full advantage of IT, ongoing and widespread IT training and certification must take place. This approach has a proven track record of helping businesses and governments get the most out of their IT making them more likely to succeed no matter what the economic climate might be.

Just as IT itself has moved from the basement to the boardroom, the IT professional has the opportunity to evolve into something that is much more integral and valuable to the business, as a whole. Businesses are looking for, and are willing to pay for technology workers with skill sets that can be used to make the company more competitive and more productive. The role of the IT professional is more strategic for organizations and technical skills alone are no longer enough for most IT jobs.

Individuals who are securing jobs in todays tech workplace are equipped with greater versatility and a broader skill set than was required in the past. Five years ago it was far easier to find a good-paying IT job. Now people who want to be in IT need an edge; a means of proving they can do the tasks assigned. Professional certifications are a step toward that proof.

A certification makes an individual more marketable. Unless the employer is familiar with the school the job candidate had attended or the organizations that candidate may have previously worked for, he or she has no independent means of knowing how rigorous the program or experience is. When a job candidate comes to an employer with a professional certification degree which is recognized and accepted globally, it gives the employer more to go on. For workers new to the employment market without a great deal of past experience, the combination of an academic degree and an industry-recognized certification puts the worker in a stronger position when looking for a job. To maintain their relevance, IT certifications must be continually evaluated and updated to keep pace with the changing requirements of the workplace. Employers want IT certifications that cover both technology essentials and the specialized skills required in different job roles. For example, including some element of "soft skills" in the certification process demonstrates the need for IT workers to be able to interact and communicate verbally and in writing in a clear and professional manner with co-workers, customers, partners, and others.

More than ever, companies value employees who can think strategically and communicate effectively, as well as those who possess strong business fundamentals. IT workers who understand how to use technology to meet business goals, and who can articulate this understanding, are golden in the eyes of employers.

--Todd Thibodeaux is the president and chief executive officer of CompTIA, the leading non-profit trade association representing the business interests of the global IT industry. He is responsible for leading strategy, development and growth efforts for the association.

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