IT Career JumpStart

Jul 28 2010   9:08PM GMT

How do certification plans figure in an uncertain economy?



Posted by: Ed Tittel
Tags:
is IT certification getting better or worse
what's up with IT certification
where's the IT cert market going?

I got the following e-mail this morning from long-time certification guru and occasional collaborator Anne Martinez of GoCertify.com:

I am curious as to your opinion on the current state of the IT certification industry. From my perspective, I felt as if it was picking up a year or two ago, but a slump seems upon it again. It seems that most of the formerly active IT certification websites are largely idle or very minimally active. It is almost as if when the economy first really nose-dived, interest in certification picked up, but now as the economy has not significantly rebounded after time has passed, interest and activity related to IT certification have dropped off again. Do you have any insights on this you would be willing to share/discuss with me?

Here’s how I replied to this inquiry, in brief:

The short, brutal response is that IT certification tracks IT hiring and promotion/raise budgets. With little hiring, and even fewer promotions and raises to go around there’s little incentive for people to get certified right now. As the economist on NPR this morning said about consumer confidence, most people and businesses are still in “wait and see” mode.

To amplify a bit on Anne’s observations, I’ve noticed that CertCities.com is pretty much quiescent, and that CertMag.com is likewise pretty spare on posting, new content, and activity. But sites with a definite axe to grind — including, both the various vendor sites (Cisco, Microsoft, Citrix, Sun, and so forth, all with active certification programs) and the big organization sites (CompTIA, PMI, LPI, and so on, ditto) — have kept on keeping on during this same period with nary a hiccup.

What does this all really mean? Those who have their own reasons for you to get certified are not letting up a bit, while those who serve the market that consists of individuals actively seeking certification, and employers interested in hiring certified professionals, or steering their best employees into certification, are falling off, sometimes severely. And yet, certain areas where jobs available exceed qualified applicants — namely, IT security, storage, SAP, and other high-demand specialties — continue to go great guns. Draw your own conclusions: I’m confused, just like the pundits, prognosticators, and regular Joes out there. Sheesh! How’s a reasonably intelligent, decently aware guy like yours truly supposed to make a living in such turbulent times? Good question, eh? Now, only if I had some more answers…

8  Comments on this Post

 
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  • dfoote13
    There is some truth in the comments above, but I think you've missed the key issues. Having spent 15 yrs surveying certs market values and analyzing market demand, and 20 yrs as an analyst reporting on IT workforce trends, I think certs have been repositioned as IT service delivery models and the workforce composition have radically changed. This transformation has placed a huge premium on other things---industry, customer, and business experience and skills, for instance. You've now got milions of IT people in lines of business and corp. functional areas, and they're not there by virtue of their deep technical prowess which had been the bread and butter of IT dept. for years. That's put a wall around IT infrastructure and tech skills in traditional certification areas and consequently the popularity and growth of certifications in those areas. Meanwhile, employers have created more demand for noncertified IT skills, including a bunch that would not have even been considered 'IT skills' 5 or 10 years ago. And they're paying more and more for these 'new breed' IT skills. There aren't certifications for many of them although vendors have tried to invade this space too. Certs market values overall have been on a steady decline since early 2006 while noncertified IT skills have been steadily going in the opposite direction, in part because of and ever-expanding list of newer noncertified IT skills they're willing to pay premiums for. Certs vendors have met this challenge by going upmarket with guru-level, peer review certifications that are hard to get and have a guaranteed high value because of how they were designed. There's a lot more to this discussion but I'll stop for now and add addtl. comment later.
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  • Ed Tittel
    Hi David! I'm not sure what you mean by the following contentions, but thanks for finding "some truth" in my remarks. Perhaps I *have* missed the key issues, so why don't you help me understand the following: 1. What does "certs have been repositioned as IT service delivery models" mean? If I don't get it--and I don't--I have to think my readers may miss that particular boat, too. 2. Mangled grammar aside (should be "has" not "have"), what does "workforce composition have radically changed" tell us? How has that composition changed, and what impact has it had, and will it have, on the IT workforce in particular? 3. When you say that IT professionals are "not there by virtual of their deep technical prowess..." please elaborate and tell use why they are there? I'm probably missing something--a key point perhaps?--when I fail to appreciate this remark as well. 4. What are the "noncertified IT skills" of which you speak, and why would they "...not have even been considered 'IT skills' 5 or 10 years ago"? This seems to be the central and most important part of your argument, so why not elaborate further here? 5. I do get the master/expert/architect level cert thing, especially as pioneered by SAP and then elaborated by Cisco, Microsoft, Brocade, EMC, and yada yada yada. Whether or not this constitutes the additional comments or discussion you promise for later, I think some additional explanation and clarification is warranted here, if only to help me better understand your perspective. Right now, I'm more mystified than edified thereby. Please help! Thanks, --Ed--
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  • BenIce
    Ed, as I've seen it what we've termed in the past "soft skills", such as leadership, public speaking, effective management training, project management training, are more in demand by corporate leadership. I've read some articles recently that say IT heads will "blow up" their departments and start over to wring more efficiency out of IT. For better or worse, businesses will push IT to the cloud because of cost benefits, and at the same time open a new Pandora's box of ill's all in a quest for shaving costs. That certainly puts significant pressure on current and future IT staff and management to expand their skill set's beyond the current track. I expect that we'll continue to see fragmentation and specialization in certification just as we did in the industry as a whole.
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  • Ed Tittel
    Dear Ben: Thanks for your insightful remarks. As you know, I've long been an advocate for the value and utility of developing soft skills as an IT worker. If that's what David is talking about I don't think I disagree with him, and I don't think I've ever overlooked the importance of such skills, either. Frankly, I can't wait to see how he replies to my last posting. Thanks for your input and ideas, --Ed--
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  • Annemz
    I think we can all agree that there is endless specialization in IT, and in fact technical certification can help hiring managers who aren't technical experts find the right person with a specialized skillset. It has always helped as a differentiator from the IT pro's standpoint - it can at least get a resume a closer look even though it is unlikely to be the deciding factor on its own. Also, with all the specialization, a certification can be used by both workers and management to help identify which skills need to be present for a person to become proficient in a new area and serve as a blueprint for learning. Training is often one of the first areas to feel the budget knife though, both self-driven and company driven, and I speculate tight wallets are playing a key role in what seems to be a downturn in active pursuit of IT certification. I also know of at least one program that was essentially wiped out by the effect of exam theft/cheating, which certainly adds a blemish to the reputation of certification as a meaningful measurement. That is a constant battle being waged.
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  • DarbyWeaver
    I think motivators are missing and since they are this trend will continue. Certifications have sought to become cheat-proof or either "have not tried to become cheat proof" and either way the effect is evident. After considerable investment in I.T. certs, I've reached the 6-digit benchmark and recently looked back to note that had I instead invested in another vertical, stocks, or real estate that by now I'd probably not need to work in I.T. at all. Maybe this is not true for everyone but in my case it makes me think very carefully where I'm spending my money for the next decade. Darby Weaver
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  • Annemz
    Darby, Your comment: [I]"After considerable investment in I.T. certs, I’ve reached the 6-digit benchmark and recently looked back to note that had I instead invested in another vertical, stocks, or real estate that by now I’d probably not need to work in I.T. at all. " [/I] is pretty amazing. Which certifications did you earn that set you back so much?
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  • Ed Tittel
    Yeah, wow, Darby! That's a big hunko cash to invest in IT certifications, indeed. Hopefully, it didn't all come exclusively out of your own pocket. OTOH, with the going price of private bachelor's and graduate degrees these days, it may not be as huge a number as my immediate gut reaction tells me it is. Do please tell us more! Thanks for posting, --Ed--
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