Is professional certification necessary?

During its Information Systems Professional awareness week last month, The Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) launched a campaign to get CIOs to encourage their IT professionals, such as network administrators and managers, to obtain this professional designation.

“As the senior decision makers on IT matters, CIOs are critical to the success of the professionalism initiative for CIPS. If they don’t buy into the concept then it is not going anywhere. Conversely, if they do buy into it, it will be successful” said Rick Penton, national president of the Mississauga-based CIPS, where it introduced the ISP designation in 1989.

In order to qualify as an ISP, a candidate first needs to be a member of CIPS, a national organization founded in 1958 to help promote standards and professionalism in the IT community. Out of its 8,000 members nationwide, only 1,500 of them currently hold the designation. The majority of these holders are in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario where the certification is legislated (i.e. it is an offence in these provinces to claim you are an ISP professional when you are not).

The average cost of CIPS membership and ISP designation certification across Canada is $300.

Julie Kaufman, IT training analyst with the Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd, sees value in getting certifications like ISP. However, a survey of IT companies conducted earlier this year by her organization found that, overall, there is less of a demand among IT professionals for certification of any kind.

“What CIOs and other senior IT executives are finding is they don’t necessarily need to have the paper [to prove] that these people [have] the skill sets. They believe they can go out there and find those skills in those who have been in this industry for 10 or 15 years, who may not have the certification but they have the work experience to prove it,” she said.

Although not familiar with the ISP designation itself, Andrew Dillane, CIO with CNC Global, an IT recruitment firm headquartered in Toronto, echoed Kaufman’s statement. “From a recruiting standpoint, there is no substitute for real hands-on experience.”

Robert Seymour, a program manager with the Worker’s Compensation Board of Alberta is one of those IT professionals who is not ISP certified.

“It has not been my top priority,” explained Seymour. “It hasn’t really impacted me in a job search or my own reputation and experience,” he added. But he stressed he is a strong supporter for getting certifications like ISP and is in fact currently working towards getting it.

“It is kind of ironic, I feel like a hypocrite. I’ve always been a strong advocate for it even in different roles I’ve had as a team leader, I just have not done it myself,” Seymour said.

Penton added that being certified would make IT professionals trustworthy on two levels.

“They are going to behave ethically according to codes of ethics and standards of conduct and secondly they are trustworthy [because] they have demonstrated mastery of body of knowledge and applied it in a professional setting.”

Kaufman said having some certification would be important for those IT professionals working on very high, transaction-based technologies. “The bigger the risk, the more you want to make sure the people who are running those systems are qualified.”

As well, Penton stressed the ISP is very important for Canadian network professionals if they want to be competitive in the global marketplace. Donna Lindskog, business consulting manager in the IT department with Regina-based SaskTel, concurred that having this designation on resumes has been important for her company — especially for its MIS department — when bidding for new customers. She added customers were more likely to choose them because of the ISP certification.

In the same IDC Canada survey, Kaufman noted that Canadian companies were in need of more networking-related skills and said certification on a resume would be a nice value-add. “It can be a differentiator but it is not the be all and end all that it was in the late 1990s.”

Seymour added: “It is not like you won’t be successful in achieving work [with no certification]. I certainly demonstrated that. But it certainly will help you to achieve work.”

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