Do certifications carry as much weight as they used to?

* Salary survey sees narrowing of pay gap between certified and non-certified skills

The pay gap between certified and non-certified IT skills is narrowing, according to fresh research on skills pay from Foote Partners. The research firm said premium pay tied to non-certified and certified skills grew an average of 2.1% and 0.7%, respectively for the six months ending April 1.

The figures equate to a respective growth of 4.4% and 2.6% for non-certified and certified skills pay for the year, according to Foote Partners' Q1 2006 Hot Technical Skills and Certifications Pay Index, published last month.

"It's an accelerating trend, the fact that IT skills without certifications are growing in value 70% greater than certified skills over the past year, and 200% faster over the past six months," Foote Partners President and Chief Research Officer David Foote said in a statement. "This is unprecedented since our firm began surveying tech skills pay in 2000 and a clear indication that, while technical skills are still important, employers are not placing the same premium on certification of those skills as they once did."

Overall, premium pay for the 103 non-certified skills surveyed in the pay index of 52,000 IT professionals from 1,820 North American firms, averaged 7.1% of base salary for a single skill, up from 6.8% in 2005, and 6.6% in 2004.

Although the growth rate of skills pay for certified skills is being overshadowed by that of non-certified skills, certifications still pay more, say the researchers. Overall, average pay for the 109 IT certifications surveyed averaged 8.3% of base pay for a single skill, compared to 8% for the same period in 2005, and 7.7% in 2004.

The researchers made several other observations in the report:

* During the dot-bomb years when cost-cutting was the by-word, requiring employees with certifications helped managers argue for training budgets, new-hires salaries, and salary adjustments for key workers. "But that resistance has virtually evaporated," Foote says.

* Employers want IT pros with a demonstrated expertise in specific technical skills, and "whether or not a certification has been earned may be inconsequential when that person also has experience in their industry or with their type of customer," says Foote.

* Of the non-certified skills categories, skills in enterprise applications and suites, applications development tools and languages, and databases boasted the highest skills pay at 7.4% of base salary. Networking and internetworking skills followed closely behind at 7.3% of base pay.

In specifics, the top 5 highest paying non-certified skills were project-level security, RAD/extreme programming, storage/storage-area networking, WebSphere, and VoIP.

* Of the certified skills categories, project management stood out as commanding the highest pay premium at 15% of base pay. This was followed by networking at 9.1% of base salary, security at 8.9% and database at 8.8%.

The top 5 hot tech skills certifications with a 7% and higher six-month growth, or 11% and higher annual growth are Security Certified Network Professional, Certified Information Security Manager, Cisco Certified Security Professional, IBM Certified Solutions Developer: WebSphere, HP/Compaq Master Accredited Systems Engineer (Master ASE).

I'd be interested to hear your views on these findings. Do you believe that the pay differences between certified and non-certified skills are narrowing? Are you finding that employers are less demanding of certifications? Let me know.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in