IT Career JumpStart

Jan 19 2009   9:40PM GMT

What about spending money when you have no money?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I just did a follow-up phone interview with TechTarget news writer MIchael Morisy, who raised the question with me “Will people really spend money on certs in a down economy?” Notice carefully the use of “people” in this question: we’re talking about individuals spending their own hard-earned money, perhaps from a dwindling pool of savings, perhaps from a severance check that is being pulled in Lord knows how many directions for how long is anybody’s guess. It’s not  a pretty pictures, particularly for those facing the question of how best to get back into the word force in the wake of job loss.

My take on this situation has evolved a bit, thanks to my conversation with Mr. Morisy, to include the following perhaps essential points:

  • Don’t look for the unemployed to be rushing out to spend any money on training or certification at all, unless they believe it will make a big difference in their prospects for another job, or the speed into which they can slot themselves into a new position.
  • If the unemployed (or underemployed) do decide to train and certify as a bootstrapping or prospect enhancing strategy, look for them to stretch whatever dollars they do spend all the way to the breaking point. This is good news for publishers of self-study materials, practice tests, and training simulators, but won’t do anything to improve the bottom lines at top-dollar training companies such as Global Knowledge, Fast Lane, New Horizons, or Learning Tree, nor will it do much for top-flight vendor training programs like those at Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, RedHat, and so forth.
  • In an uncertain economy with an indeterminate amount of time to devote to skills and knowledge development, individual goals are likely to be single-point and very focused. Though some may go back to school to finish a degree, or pursue a more advanced degree, most IT professionals will be looking for programs they can finish in a few months. Likewise, most will shy away from time horizons that span more than six months, let alone a year or more.
  • Online training sources may experience a bump in business during this time of rising unemployment and rising job uncertainty. Those barely hanging onto questionable or doomed positions will probably join those already out of a job in droves on Websites where they can obtain study materials to prep for valuable certifications, interact with experts and other students, and practice for or simulate real-world and/or exam conditions to help them prepare for a trip to a test center nearby.

The last time I did the analysis of what a typical certification  cost, the breakdown looked something like this:

  • Cost of the exam: usually $150 to $500 (only a very few exams cost more than that, but some go into the thousands, such as the Cisco CCIE Lab exam, various RedHat lab exams, SAP consultant exams, and so forth)
  • Cost of reading/study materials: $30 for an Exam Cram, $50-60 for an All-in-One Prep tool for many exams, up to $400-500 for a more complete library for more demanding exams (CISSP, CCIE, SNIA, and so on). You’ll also find flash cards, command references, exam reviews, and other prep materials readily available, mostly for very poplular credentials (CCNA, MCSE, MCSA, A+, Network+, Security+, and  so forth).
  • Practice exams: $90-150 per set, with one or two sets typical for most self-study exam candidates.
  • Other sources of expense: travel to/from test center, access to online labs or simulators, exam retakes. This can add as little as nothing to overall costs to over $1,000 when air travel and lab or simulator time are essential to passing exams.

In this economy, especially for those out of work or contemplating same, the tendency will be to low-ball expenses to the point of absurdity. Under the circumstances, this is not a criticism: it’s simply the application of common sense to a difficult situation.

3  Comments on this Post

 
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  • Suzanne Wheeler
    Federal Student Loans in the US are a great resource I am tapping for all they're worth. In fact, I just found a second degree to earn after I complete my CMBA! I decided on earning it instead of training in healthcare informatics because of cost and the program structure was less strict. Now my university offers a bachelor degree in HI so I'm considering earning that on top of the MBA. It's just a little more debt, some more work, but will get my foot in the door of a field that doesn't receive cuts during a recession. Oh, did I mention that several IT certifications are included in the program? What a bonus!
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  • Daileyml
    Thanks for the useful info, Ed. While I am not recommending paying for certifications to those of my peers that have been affected by the economic situation, I highly recommend the purchase of study materials. Those who are looking for a new job should be spending much of their spare time keeping their skills sharp. It will be crucial in future interviews and important to keeping yourself focused and uplifted while you seek that next opportunity. -Mike D http://www.daileymuse.com
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  • Ed Tittel
    Dear Mike: Obviously, I can't agree with you more. In fact, one of the most important points I sought to make in this blog posting was the idea that IT professionals can and should seek to boost skills and knowledge even during uncertain times, or while out of a job, but that they can stretch their dollars pretty darn far in this process, if they're willing to expend some extra effort and creativity on that process. Thanks for reinforcing this key idea! You're also right to observe that it's really not about the "alphabet soup" (the strings of letters people get to put after their names). It's really about what those people know and can do, what problems they can solve, and how they can add value in the workplace. Thanks for your comment, --Ed--
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