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.