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Five ways to get affordable certification skills

Employed IT professionals dealing with cut budgets and techies looking for work need to keep high-tech skills sharp during the downturn

By , Network World
August 06, 2009 12:08 AM ET

Network World - As the recession takes its toll on tech budgets, IT professionals are realizing their future careers could suffer as training dollars dry up and the resources needed to update their high-tech skills are eliminated. With choices limited for paid training, IT pros need to be creative in their studies.

How to get more from your IT certifications 

"Training is almost always the first to go when IT organizations have to cut budgets, but that doesn't always mean employees or even unemployed workers can't update their skills without spending a lot of money," says Beverly Lieberman, a member of the Society for Information Management (SIM) and president of Halbrecht Lieberman Associates, an executive search firm in Westport, Conn.

According to IT professionals in the field, keeping skills fresh will benefit the individual as much as the employer, so it makes sense for techies to take the reins of their professional development. And for those techies looking for work, prospective employers will appreciate the training efforts made during a candidate's downtime. Here we highlight five ways IT pros can get certification-level skills on the cheap.

No. 1: Split the cost with employer

IT professionals working full-time, but faced with no training budget, could argue their case to employers -- and offer to split the cost in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

"Training can be perceived as expensive, but many companies today are still having a hard time filling skills gaps, and it would cost more to bring in a new hire than to train an existing one in the skills that are lacking," Lieberman says. "It is not out of the question for IT pros to negotiate with their employer for training dollars that will ultimately help both parties."

For some, specific certifications are required for certain positions --which would give an employer more reason to help fund the training effort. Colt Mercer, network engineer at Citigroup in Dallas, says Level 1 engineers are expected to have their Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) accreditation within three months of being hired. In Mercer's case, he and others are scheduled to get Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert training by 2010, but he wants to see that happen sooner.

"The company has internal goals for the engineers ... but I am trying to do some of the training on my own because I don't want to have to wait until next year," Mercer explains.

Gartner recently put out IT workforce data that showed a majority of CIOs don't plan to hire new staff in the coming months, but the research firm advises employers to invest in existing staff to ensure a more successful recovery when the recession abates.

"Employers need to continue to invest in career development and human capital management planning, even during the recession, because when things start to return it will be extremely costly to try to hire new staff with skills or expertise in enterprise architecture or SAP, for example," says Lily Mok, vice president in Gartner's CIO Research organization, where she serves as primary author of the research firm's annual IT Market Compensation Study. "IT pros may stay with an employer because they need a job now, but they will remember when the recession ends how the employer treated them and could move on because of a lack of training or career development."

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