IT certifications continue to show value

For about six years IT certifications got no respect. Now it seems they’re having a comeback, at least if you measure by salary.

According to the latest IT skills and certification pay index from Foote Partners, which regularly reports on IT salaries, for the fifth consecutive quarter both certified and non-certified IT skills categories in North America recorded overall pay gains.

“For certified skills in particular this has signaled a notable shift in momentum by U.S. and Canadian employers following a long running slump in IT certification values dating back to 2006,” said the report, which covers the second quarter of this year.

Quarter to quarter gains for both certified and non-certified IT jobs happened only once in the past five years (in 2010), the report said.

There’s a constant fight in the industry over the value of certifications, which isn’t helped by the constant changes in the industry as new technologies rise and fall.

Interestingly, the report also noted that in the second quarter of this year 85 IT skills rose in market value, and of them nearly two-thirds didn’t require a formal certification.

“The world was not respecting certifications for a long time,” company CEO David Foote said in an interview Wednesday, “and the reason for that is people think certifications are too easy to get, there’s a lot of evidence of fraud in the industry, there were a lot of training companies giving people answers to tests, for some you only needed to get 60 per cent of questions right.”

He also pointed out that most certifications are in the areas of networking, systems, security and databases, but that is only a small section of what IT professionals do. Many do application development and they need to know more than coding skills – who’s using the software, the business units of the company and what they need to accomplish and so on. So when managers hire IT people their technical skill wasn’t necessarily the first criteria.

Asked why wages for those with certifications have rebounded, Foote replied that “it couldn’t go any lower.” But he also said the numbers are being moved by better salaries for those with cloud computing and big data rated skills.

He also point out that there are two kinds of certifications: Those sponsored by vendors, and those that are vendor-neutral –like in Agile development. The later are the ones that are growing.

One other thing Foote observed from the 2Q figures, what he called the “stickiness” of IT security positions. Despite his believe that employers are “radically underpaying” these staffers, they are hanging in and actually saw an average salary increase of 5.6 per cent in the past year.

But, he cautioned, he believes managers aren’t looking so much for people with security certifications as they are for those with communications skills, needed to help persuade the lines of business they work with of the value of the C-level in investing more in protecting the company.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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