Hot network certifications: Multi-skill certs to dominate 2021

As organizations shifted to home-based work, certifying bodies saw the biggest increase in entry-level networking certifications. But in 2021, more advanced, cross-certifications that combine skills will rank among the most sought-after credentials.

In March, IT professional association CompTIA nervously pondered what affect COVID-19 and work-from-home mandates would have on its members and its core mission of delivering training and vendor-neutral IT certifications. "When you have this kind of upheaval, what does that mean in terms of education?" says James Stanger, chief technology evangelist at CompTIA. Surely it would take a back seat to more pressing business issues. Turns out, certifications have "massively continued" their upward trend, he says.

While CompTIA will not disclose exact numbers, a survey by The Adecco Group shows a boom in upskilling as an unintended consequence of the COVID-19 lockdown. Six in 10 professionals say they've improved their tech knowhow, including seeking certifications, since working from home.

In fact, entry-level network certifications that cover fundamental standards and practices were among the hottest certifications in 2020. The perennial favorite CompTIA Network+ cert gained popularity for its non-vendor specific teachings, and the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification increased 20% in value for its broad range of skills covered, including network fundamentals, network access, IP connectivity, IP services, security fundamentals, and automation and programmability, according to research firm Foote Partners.

Organizations also pushed to reskill IT workers whose jobs suddenly became less relevant. "If I have a plethora of help desk people and not enough network people because we made a rapid move to remote work," then certifications provided needed new skills, says Jim Johnson, senior vice president at IT recruiting firm Robert Half Technology.

IT professionals may also be looking to pandemic-proof their jobs, says David Foote, founder and CEO of Foote Partners. Skills in networking and security seem like safe bets for job security, he adds. A CCNA certification earns IT professionals about 5% above base pay, on average.

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