IT certification losing luster

A pair of recent surveys provides evidence that employers are putting more of a premium on knowledge and experience than certification.

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A pair of recent surveys provides evidence that employers are putting more of a premium on knowledge and experience than on technical certification.

A report released Wednesday from Robert Half Technology, the IT staffing firm, found that 41% of CIOs at U.S. companies consider a job candidate's knowledge of business fundamentals, such as accounting and finance, more important than they did five years ago. The national poll was based on responses from 1,400 CIOs at companies with 100 employees or more, and 54% said the importance they place on business skills stayed the same; only 3% said it decreased.

What's hot, what's not

What noncertified tech skills have been growing in value?  

By IT skills category, in order of most growth (12 months):

• Operating systems (+6.3% average growth in premium skills pay value)

• Applications development tools/Languages (+6.1%)

• Networking (+4.0%)

• Web/e-commerce development (+3.7%)

• Enterprise applications development (+3.2%)

• Database, messaging (+2.8% each)  

What tech skills certifications have been growing in value?  

By IT skills category, in order of most growth (12 months):

• Applications development/programming languages (+15.6% average growth in premium skills pay value)

• Project management (+15.4%)

• Training/general (+6.7%)

• Webmaster/I-net (+1.8%)

• Security (+0.9%)

Source: Foote Partners LLC

In contrast to the situation during the recession, however, polishing your résumé with a list of certified technical skills is no longer a prerequisite for higher pay.

That's the conclusion of Foote Partners LLC, which tracks premium pay for technology professionals. According to Foote, the value of noncertified tech skills is growing faster than the value of certified skills, rising 4.4% during the past 12 months, compared with a 2.6% boost in pay for certified skills. For the six months ending April 1, 2006, pay for noncertified skills grew an average 2.1%, compared with less than 1% for certified skills.

"Employers are on the hunt for IT professionals with demonstrated expertise in specific technical skills, and whether or not a certification has been earned may be inconsequential when that person also has experience in their industry or with their type of customer," said David Foote, president and chief research officer for the New Canaan, Conn.-based firm.

Premium pay refers to the additional money paid to IT professionals with the same job title to compensate them for special talents. Typically, the premium is tied to technical skills and calculated as a percentage of base pay.

Foote said the rising value of noncertified skills in recent months is unprecedented in the six years his firm has been surveying the field and marks a sharp reversal from pay trends of recent years. "Eighteen months ago, it was all about certification for IT workers as employers stumbled out of the wreckage of an economic recession," he said. Under pressure from employers to cut costs, IT managers demanded certifications from workers to justify pay and make new hires or prevent job cuts. During the recession, Foote said, skills without certification lost about a third of their value, while pay for IT certifications dipped about 10% from 2001 to 2004.

"The irony is that so many exceptionally talented but certificationless workers caught in workforce reduction during the recession couldn't even get job interviews because of résumé-scanning software that filtered out résumés without specific certification identifiers," Foote explained. "I think a lot of employers are kicking themselves for not having hired this type of worker when their prices were lower, or for firing them in the first place."

Craig Symons, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said the findings are consistent with broader trends in the technology sector.

"Technology is becoming increasingly a commodity, and secondly it is being taken to higher and higher levels of abstraction," said Symons, who covers IT management and governance for the Cambridge, Mass.-based firm.

Twenty-five years ago, people were writing code that ran directly on the machine. Then came languages such as COBOL. The competitive differentiation today is coming not from technology, per se, but from new and innovative business processes that may be enabled by technology, Symons said. "So it is really an understanding of the business processes and strategies where the value is really being added today. That's why those skills are in demand."

In addition, the proliferation of certificate-granting agencies is causing employers to take a more jaundiced view of certification. "Just do a Google search and you'll find a one-man training shop handing out certificates," Symons said. "Unless it's coming from a really accredited institution, you can't bank a lot on that certification."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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