IT Pros Need Business Skills, Certifications for Higher Pay

The growing emphasis on noncertified skills means IT professionals need experience and business skills to get the higher pay; certifications are no longer enough.

Certifications can still lead to higher pay, but for IT professionals, business skills are becoming just as valuable, according to the third-quarter IT Skills and Certification Pay Index report from Foote Partners.

In the report, released Nov. 29, Foote Partners found that only 5 percent of the certified skills in its index saw a pay increase in he last calendar quarter, compared with 13 percent of noncertified skills.

The third-quarter study showed that premium pay for professionals with IT certifications and those with specific business skills were flattening, similar to the trend observed in the second-quarter skills and certification report. Foote Partners monitor approximately 2,200 employers and more than 120,000 jobs to compile the report each quarter.

Overall, premium pay for noncertified skills declined slightly in the third quarter, continuing the slide first observed last quarter after more than a year of steady gains, according to Foote Partners. Pay for IT certifications continued declining, hitting a 12-year low this quarter. However, a handful of specific skills and specialized certifications continued to see premium pay gains.

"The average market value for 274 noncertified skills dipped slightly from July to October for the second consecutive quarter," the report found, also noting that "pay premiums for 240 IT certifications continued their downward trend for a fifth straight quarter."

The application development/programming and the systems administration and engineering certifications categories grew in overall market value, thanks to pay premium increases for IT professionals with specialist certifications from Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Red Hat and Microsoft, the report found.

Declines were most significant in positions requiring entry-level and training certification. Premium pay, such as a bonus, declined 6.4 percent since the second quarter for those positions. Premiums for professionals with Web development certifications were down 5.3 percent, while premium pay for professionals with operating systems skills, a noncertified category in the Foote Partners index, increased by 9.4 percent.

The market value for certifications that fall under the category of "beginner and training" have declined 25 percent over the last two years, according to the report. Professionals with certifications in networking and communication have seen a 7.9 percent drop, and pay premiums for database certifications have dropped 11.5 percent over the same period. Other certifications that have dropped in value include architecture, project management and process.

There was a time when having a string of accreditations would have been enough to commandeer higher salaries. But the current business and economic climate is putting an emphasis on other skills, according to David Foote, co-founder of Foote Partners.

Most companies are hiring for vacant positions or looking internally for candidates. Instead of looking for specialists, companies are more likely to hire "hybrid IT business professional," candidates with a strong background in IT and other business disciplines, such as sales and marketing, according to Foote Partners. Organizations have been heavily spending "in the services industry and in selective internal hires," according to Foote.

The emphasis on business skills may have to do with the fact that a growing number of IT professionals are not working as part of the traditional IT department, the report found. Less than 20 percent of all IT professionals work "within the walls of what could be considered the traditional IT department," the report said.

"They have not been valuing certified skills as much as they have those that are without certification, where the experience and on-the-job performance of a person accounts for more 'juice' in hiring and skills acquisition decisions than having an acronym on one's business card," Foote said.