Face-off: Certifications remain important for career enhancement

Experts disagree on whether formal certifications still matter

Susan Underhill, vice president of HP Global Certification and Partner Education, argues certification is still needed.

There has been much debate about IT certifications losing their value. This has been prompted by a number of recent salary surveys indicating that wages for noncertified IT professionals are catching up to those for certified professionals.

There are many reasons why the overall gap in compensation is closing, from a proliferation of low-value certifications to the IT skill gap shortage.

Hiring managers, not IT job seekers, determine whether certification is valuable. It is valuable only if those who are certified are in demand. The IT certification industry has missed the boat by targeting its messages at the individual level rather than managers.

Face-off: Certifications are not important for career enhancement

Many IT professionals indicate they value the training courses because that is where skill is gained; they perceive certification and taking exams as optional. However, employers view the assessment as the real value. I consistently hear, "I don't care what training you've slept through. I care about your skill level." How an individual got the skills is less important to the manager than that they have the skills.

HP commissioned an IDC study in 2006 in which IDC uncovered a "strong, undeniable link between training, team skill and project success." The more highly skilled a team is, the more likely the success of its IT project. But how does the manager measure the competency of the team he is assembling? Passing exams measures whether an IT professional has the skills to do the job. Certification is a way to package and market the skills and drive value around them in the marketplace. Employers find certifications useful in validating and providing a means to specify the skills they need.

Managers have increasingly turned to IT certifications to provide that benchmark for their employees. Particularly in small businesses, managers don't have the time to create their own skill benchmarks. To help grow and validate the skills of their staff they use resources from a combination of IT vendors. In this way, certification enables the manager to confidently assemble the combination of skills needed by selecting team members who hold various elements (such as infrastructure, networking and security).

Certification is not the only benchmark in use as managers look for a combination of certification, experience, references and skills. In commoditized technologies, certification is not even the primary differentiator. But studies show that in areas where high-value skills are required -- such as virtualization, security and networking -- certification is deemed a significant value. Salary-survey studies also show a significant compensation gap in favor of those who are certified in these areas.

Do certifications make a career difference for IT pros? Hiring managers tell us they find them to be valuable. The more a particular certification is in demand, the greater the asset IT professionals find it for their career development.

Underhill is vice president of HP Global Certification and Partner Education. She can be reached at susan.underhill@hp.com.

Learn more about this topic

The skills that reap pay premiums


Certification is about more than higher pay 02/05/07


Demand rises for wireless skills


Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Now read: Getting grounded in IoT