Microsoft certifications are dropping in value and provide a smaller pay boost than IT skills related to Cisco, Oracle, EMC, VMware, IBM, SAP, and Red Hat technologies.
"So many people have Microsoft certifications that the gap between supply and demand is not that great, like it is with other certifications," says David Foote of the IT research firm Foote Partners.
On average, IT workers with a Microsoft certification earn 5.9% more than they otherwise might if they were not skilled in using Microsoft technologies, but the Microsoft pay premium is smaller than the industry average, which is 7.3% across 225 IT certifications.
Foote Partners tracks more than 100,000 IT workers, 43% of whom are receiving a pay boost for specializations. The pay boosts related to Microsoft certifications dropped from 6.1% to 5.9% over the last six months, a larger drop than the one affecting the industry as a whole.
The current rate of 5.9%, calculated across 19 Microsoft certifications, is significantly lower than the 8.1% average pay boost provided by 31 Cisco certifications. Six Oracle certifications average a 7.5% boost; 15 IBM certs average a 7.1% boost; five Red Hat certs average a 7.8% boost; nine EMC certs average an 8.4% boost; and two VMware certs average an 8.5% boost.
In part because Microsoft certifications are so commonly held, "I would argue that many of their certifications are not as important as they used to be," Foote says. "There are other vendors that have more popular certifications. You're talking about a company that has lost ground over the last several years."
Out of the 19 Microsoft certifications, the most valuable is Microsoft Certified Architect, with an 11% pay boost, whereas Microsoft Certified Professional and Certified Systems Administrator were among those below the 5.9% Microsoft average. That 5.9% figure was calculated by taking the median pay boost for each certification, and then averaging the 19 medians. In general, the most highly specialized skills are the most valuable. Another example of a Microsoft skill with above-average value is the GIAC-certified Windows Security Administrator.
Foote Partners tracks the value of both IT certifications and noncertified skills. For some vendors, there are far more certified skills than noncertified skills, or vice versa, but in Microsoft's case Foote tracks 19 certifications and 18 noncertified skills. The average value of the 18 noncertified skills is equal to a pay boost of 6.6% of a worker's base salary. Industry-wide, across 241 noncertified skills, the average is 8.42%. For SAP, there are 76 skills that average a 9.9% pay boost.
Out of the 18 Microsoft noncertified skills, only two -- Exchange Server and BizTalk Server -- have grown in value in the last three months. Foote has seen steady declines in value for .Net, but it's still the highest-paying Microsoft skill with a 12% pay premium. The value of .Net certifications have fallen four quarters in a row, but this can be viewed in a positive light from an employer's perspective. Falling values show that supply is catching up with demand, Foote notes.
In addition to .Net, higher-paying Microsoft noncertified skills include Microsoft Commerce Server and SQL Server.
On the whole, Foote says the IT jobs outlook is much sunnier than the picture painted by official government statistics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics substantially underreports IT job creation, Foote says, by not counting IT professionals who work in line-of-business departments, such as product and marketing groups, rather than directly under the CIO.
While the U.S. government numbers the IT workforce at 4 million, Foote Partners believes it is as high as 24 million when counting all workers being paid for IT skills.
"The government has defined 'IT professional' in the same narrow way for several decades: just 21 job titles exist in the 2010-2011 edition of the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook and they're all traditional technical infrastructure jobs in systems analysis, programming, data communications and networks, tech support, and database administration," Foote says in a recent analysis of federal data.
Still, the official U.S. employment figures show eight straight months of IT job growth, with a net gain of 74,200 IT jobs over the past year.