Certification at the Entry Level1 | 2 |
Matt Walker is certified in CCNP, CCDA, MCSE, MCT, CEH, CNDA, CPTS, Security+ and Network+. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Entry-Level Certs Fill Skills Gap
Certifications for workers in the information technology industry, historically targeted at professionals with at least a few years of experience on the job, are more and more being tailored for entry-level candidates.
For certifying bodies, the shift is aimed in part at addressing shortages of certain technology skills that are impacting the industry and have the potential to be even more problematic in the not-so-distant future.
For workers new to the high-tech sector, the emergence of new certification options at the entry level is good news.
Even in a market in which companies say technical skills are lacking, employers are more demanding and selective in their searches for technology workers.
Individuals securing jobs in today’s tech workplace are equipped with greater versatility and a broader skill set than was required in the past. An industry-recognized certification puts the worker — even an entry-level worker — in a stronger position with prospective employers. Certifications are a clear indicator for the employer that the individual who wants a job has the skills to perform the tasks.
IT jobs are among the 10 hardest jobs to fill, according to an April 2008 survey by Manpower. Nearly 25 percent of employers surveyed for Manpower said they are having problems filling open jobs because of a lack of talent.
Today’s IT jobs are more complicated than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Applications, networks and systems call for IT professionals with a much broader set of skills, even at the entry level.
Multiple studies suggest there will be a wide gap in the next five to 10 years between the demand for IT workers and the supply of workers with the right technical skills. Research firm IDC puts that gap at 40 percent.
A 2008 study commissioned by CompTIA that surveyed more than 3,500 IT managers in 14 countries found that there are gaps in several critical technical areas. There is a wide gap between the IT security skills that organizations want and the corresponding skills that workers bring to the job.
Among organizations surveyed in nine countries with established IT industries — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States — 73 percent identified security, firewalls and data privacy as the IT skills most important to their organizations. But just 57 percent said their IT employees are proficient in these security skills, a gap of 16 percentage points.
The gap is even wider in five countries where the emergence of a strong IT industry is relatively recent: China, India, Poland, Russia and South Africa. Among respondents in these countries, 76 percent identified security as the top skill their organizations need, but just 57 percent said their current tech staffs are proficient in security. That’s a difference of 19 percentage points.
Other skills with significant gaps between importance and proficiency are soft skills — such as customer service, sales, project management, communication — and nonspecific server technology including database, storage, maintenance and administration.
Development of new entry-level IT certifications and the refinement of existing certifications are intended to address this critical skill issue, according to Gretchen Koch, director of skills development for CompTIA.
“It gets back to enlarging the number of IT professionals and keeping the pipeline of workers filled,” she said.
Adobe Systems is among the major players in the IT industry that have expanded their certification programs to include more entry-level candidates.
In June 2007, Adobe Systems launched the first in a new line of entry-level certifications for its software. Targeted at high school and college students and entry-level workers, the Adobe Certifications exams are intended to test a candidate’s ability to use Adobe’s multimedia, video, graphic and Web software. The first offerings are tied to Adobe’s Flash and Dreamweaver products, with other certifications to roll out later this year.
“Adobe is committed to offering educators the resources to give students the necessary digital media skills to succeed in today’s highly competitive workplace,” said Megan Stewart, director of K-12 education at Adobe. “We can offer teachers and students the ability to not only learn to use Adobe’s industry-standard digital communications tools, but to validate the skills and competencies that they have acquired.”
“It’s a market plan that allows Adobe to increase the user base that’s knowledgeable about its programs and is capable of entering the higher-level certifications when they become professionals in the field,” said David Saedi, president and chief executive officer of Certiport, which Adobe partnered with in developing its certifications. “Trying to verify how many people out there qualify for a particular job is difficult. By [knowing] the number of people using Adobe programs in high schools and colleges around the world, it will give us a much better feel for the ebb and flow of talent coming into the market.”
Entering With Acumen
The CompTIA A+ certification has been revised to reflect the evolution of skills required for individuals embarking on careers in technology, which includes the need for technical, business, communication and personal skills.
“The role of the IT professional is more strategic for organizations, and technical skills alone are no longer enough for most IT jobs,” Koch said. “More than ever, companies value employees who can think strategically and communicate effectively, as well as those who possess strong business fundamentals. IT workers who understand how to use technology to meet business goals, and who can articulate this understanding, are golden in the eyes of employers.”
Though IT certifications take time, effort and resources — including money — to attain, the return on investment can be significant. Certification in the IT industry is critical for getting your foot in the door. Employers are looking for job candidates with some level of industry knowledge. What better way for an entry-level worker to demonstrate his or her knowledge than by obtaining a recognized industry credential?
Matt Walker is certified in CCNP, CCDA, MCSE, MCT, CEH, CNDA, CPTS, Security + and Network +. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.