Another Nail in the IT Certification Coffin

By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 2006-11-03

Another Nail in the IT Certification Coffin

IT certifications are worth less than ever, and the value of non-certified technology skills has surged, according to the third-quarter edition of the "Hot Technical Skills and Certifications Pay Index" from Foote Partners, a New Canaan, Conn., IT workforce research firm, on Nov. 1.

"Certified skills pay has not just flat lined, its in the negative. This is big news if youre certified and youre thinking about getting recertified," said Foote.

"This trend is in the fourth quarter, that pay for certifications is on the wane, while non-certified skills are growing in pay."

During the third quarter of 2006, pay for 129 certified skills fell 2 percent in value, in the largest quarterly decline in two years.

In the accumulated first three quarters of 2006, the pay for these certifications slipped an average of 1.2 percent.

Meanwhile, the pay for noncertified IT skills only grew—1.4 percent in the third quarter of 2006, 4.8 percent in the second and third quarters combined, and an abrupt 7 percent increase over 12 months.

David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners, said that its not that employers arent willing to pay a premium for certifications, its that the market price has fallen significantly from its year-ago levels.

"Across all 253 skills we survey, the value of noncertified skills is growing at a rate five times greater than certification pay. And theres no sign that this is going to change any time soon," said Foote.

Certifications are losing value because employers are looking for more in their workers than the ability to pass an exam; they want business-articulate IT pros.

"Its not just having a solution; youve got to be able to sell it to management and convince them to give you the budget. You have to be able do more than come up with the answer; you need both the technical chops and an understanding of the customers. I call it delivering results," said Foote.

For the professionals that comprehend ITs role in business, can meet customers moving-target deadlines and work well with others, in most cases, not being certified in their technical skills is not going to matter, the report argues.

Next Page: Growing talent in-house.

Growing Talent In


Growing Talent In-House

Foote argues that the much-reported talent war and talent shortage is about companies not failing to build their own bench strength.

"There is a panic setting in at companies, they want to know what do. But, theyve known for years that they need to internally develop their own talent. Theyve lost their own farm system, and now they dont have the bench strength to get this stuff done. You cant easily outsource an architect, and weve known for many years that were going to need more of them, but were not growing them internally."

When companies should have been working on building up their own internal talent, Foote argues, they were often too busy doing what they do on a daily basis, remaining perpetually either understaffed or staffed with the wrong people.

"Put it like this: if youve seen a tsunami, youre already dead. But, if you plan ahead of time, moving people to different jobs and moving them ahead in their careers, youll be all right."

Foote sees the trend of devalued certified skills, increasingly prized noncertified skills as well as a difficulty finding them only increasing in the next year, and having disastrous results as more and more products and services are not delivered to customers on time.

"This is about increasing niche demand for skills and the reality that there isnt enough specialized talent to meet this demand. Its about declining bench strength and the steep price employers are starting to pay for not growing their skills in house," said Foote.

Next Page: Pay not matched to skills.

Pay Not Matched to


Pay Not Matched to Skills

The report notes an increasing trending in paying directly for specific skills, in an effort to get workers to market pay levels. However, this is a daunting task, because in the field of IT, titles rarely match what workers are actually doing.

Foote sees the fact that most salary surveys tie their wages to these ill-fitted titles, and show most IT pros making well under what they should be for their titles, as having disastrous effects on worker morale.

"When IT professionals are underpaid, there is tension and resentment, and theyre ripe for picking by executive recruiters."

The process of revamping and reclassifying IT titles is something few employers want to tackle, according to Foote.

"It is a nightmare… Even worse, IT jobs are changing so rapidly nowadays that youd have to repeat this process regularly. The reality is that many employers havent updated IT job descriptions in years, or have only done a few at a time."

Click here to read more about the value of certifications.

Foote Partners noted a trend away from prior pay structures in research published Aug. 2, in which more than half of IT professionals surveyed were then earning pay for additional tech skills, not through bonuses but tucked into their base salaries.

"The predominant method for paying for skills was always through bonuses on top of salaries. But, the problem was that a lot of companies had very selective bonus programs, for which most didnt qualify. HR departments dont like to make exceptions," said Foote.

More companies are now seeing paying directly for skills not as a recruiting, but retention tactic.

"If youre trying to get someone to average market pay, their title wont help you. The question is, do you redefine what this person does and their title, or do you realize that everyone with this title in this company are not equal. You have to find some justification to pay them more, to bring them up to market pay so a recruiter cant come in and lure them elsewhere," said Foote.

Next Page: Certified and non-certified skills.

Certified and Non

-Certified Skills">

Certified and Non-Certified Skills Holding Ground

Among all the certified skills surveyed, only those in the area of Web development—strong performers including Novell/CIP (Certified Internet Professional), Prosoft Master CIW Administrator—have grown in value as a percentage of base median salary grew in the last six months and the last two years, at rates of 3.6 percent and 11.6 percent respectively.

IT security certifications, including CISSP, CISA, CCSP, GSE, SSCP, CISM and GCFA, performed well in the third quarter of 2006, accounting for 8.7 percent of median base salaries.

Project management certifications, including PMP and ITCA, as well as networking and internetworking certifications, including CCIE, CCVP, SNIA Certified Storage Networking Expert and CCSI, also showed strong numbers in Q3 at 10.7 percent and 8.9 percent of median base salaries, respectively.

Application development and programming languages certifications—strong performers including IBM Certified Solutions Developer: WebSphere, OCP (Oracle Forms Developer Certified Professional), MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solution Developer) and Sun Certified Enterprise Architect for Java Platform—grew 20.4 percent in the last two years but fell 0.1 percent in the past two quarters.

Among non-certified skills, premium pay for enterprise business applications, as a percentage of median base salaries, has shown some of the greatest growth, with a 10.2 percent growth over the last six months, and an almost 25 percent increase over the past two years.

Non-certified application development tools and platforms skills have seen a 5.7 percent change over six months and 28 percent growth over the past two years.

Management and process non-certified skills have shown 6.3 percent growth in only six months.

Next Page: Future value of certifications.

Future Value of Certifications

The Future Value of Certifications

IT certifications come in many flavors and shapes, but Foote says a distinction is made between those that require techies to just take a test, versus those that require a thorough review of candidates before a peer board.

"If you have to qualify to take the test, to be audited somehow, then you cant even get in the door to take the test unless you qualify. The Open Group and Microsoft have both introduced peer review boards on their certifications. If the certification is harder to get, its often worth more," said Foote.

He sees the value and pay of non-certified skills passing that of certifications very soon.

"I see it catching up sometime in the next four quarters. This is a fundamental trend in the certification industry. Vendors are aware of this, and are going to make them harder to get," said Foote.

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