As with a lot of good ideas in certification, the IT Certification Council owes its existence in part to CompTIA. After meeting at a CompTIA conference, the ITCC's core founders began a conversation about the value of certification that's still going. Since becoming a formal organization in its own right, the ITCC has grown to include 18 member companies and is energetically engaged in pushing the growth and development of IT certification.
Later this year, the ITCC will present its first annual Innovation Award to honor a certification difference maker, and there's much more to come. Certification Magazine recently spoke with ITCC executives Duane Draper and Chuck Cooper about the formulation and future of the IT Certification Council. The duo blended their knowledge and passion to paint a picture of a vital and growing independent organization committed to the cause of IT certification.
CertMag: Where did the idea for the IT Certification Council originate, and how did the group come together? Are members all volunteers?
IT Certification Council: Eight years ago, a small group of individuals from a few IT companies (IBM, HP and SUN among them) attended a CompTIA conference on learning where there was a breakout discussion session on certification (not yet on the conference agenda). The following year, driven by increased interest and attendance by other companies, CompTIA included an education track devoted to certification specific topics. As a result of the interaction and value derived from these meetings, the Information Technology Certification Council (ITCC) was born.
For several years, the council was run as a subgroup hosted by CompTIA, and in 2010, ITCC was incorporated as a separate, not-for-profit organization. The council is governed by elected volunteer officers who are individuals from ITCC member companies. All members are encouraged to volunteer to participate in initiative focused task forces. There are currently 18 member companies.
CertMag: What do members of the council commit to by joining? What does the council hope to achieve?
IT Certification Council: The vision of the ITCC is to be the recognized knowledge authority for IT industry professional certifications with the overarching mission of enhancing and promoting the value of certification. To achieve this goal, members engage with each other by providing thought leadership and sharing industry best practices. Individuals are called upon to make a commitment to participate and contribute to the various initiatives undertaken by the council throughout the year. There are several projects currently underway:
- The ITCC TechCertRegistry is a web-based application sponsored by participating ITCC members that provides and supports services for IT candidates, credential sponsors (certification vendors), and employers who hire or contract skilled IT professionals. The ITCC TechCertRegistry application allows IT candidates to:
- Create a secure account to aggregate their IT certifications into one, convenient record.
- Create a unique ID to use universally with credential sponsors/certification vendors and testing providers.
- Publish an official verified transcript of their IT certifications to employers or other parties.
- Opt in to automatically upload from their verified credentials from the TCR to their LinkedIn profile
- The ITCC TechCertRegistry services support the IT certifications of the participating ITCC credential sponsors and testing providers.
- Securing Certifications is an important initiative of the ITCC. Without security, a certification program will quickly lose value. The member companies of the ITCC collaborate on the issues surrounding certification test theft and individual cheating. The issues being addressed are limited to a minority of test takers, but all issues are very important to corporate entities that develop certification exams and rely on those exams to prove competencies. It is equally important knowledge for the vast majority of the test takers who are honest and protective of the value of their achieved certifications.
As an ITCC member company — or a company considering joining the ITCC — this initiative brings together the focused skills of security experts from the member companies and the individuals that address test security issues on a regular basis from law enforcement and military security programs.
- Promoting the Value of IT Certification. The Marketing and Communication Task Force is actively engaged in the promotion of the value of IT certifications to candidates, business partners and other decision makers through social media, an ITCC blog and the website. A monthly newsletter, TechCertNews is sent to individuals who utilize the TCR and includes IT certification industry highlights and links to important events and innovations (i.e. the Certification Magazine salary survey). There are related white papers and other industry material available through the ITCC website. The task force also promotes the value of the ITCC to new IT member firms in an effort to broaden the message.
- Thought Leadership Initiative. This year the ITCC is undertaking an expansive industry Thought Leadership Initiative. The ITCC plans to invest money and time into deeper research and trying to identify trends in the industry with an eye on predicting what the future of certification might look like. With the explosive growth of big data and our ability to harness that data, social and professional online networks and changing IT roles and technologies, what we currently know as certification may change dramatically. ITCC wants to position its members to take advantage of this collective knowledge and be at the forefront of testing for years to come.
CertMag: Does the ITCC hope to become a standard-setting and enforcing body for IT certification as a whole?
IT Certification Council: The ITCC is not currently involved with setting standards for the IT Certification industry. Following the ITCC mission to enhance the collective value of certification for the industry, the employer and the IT professional, members continue to collaborate and share best practices among their companies — some of the largest in the IT certification industry. We share approaches to solving common problems and collaborate as industry participants to increase the value of certifications for test takers and hiring managers.
CertMag: Do IT certifications have more or less clout today than they did 10 years ago?
IT Certification Council: We believe that the IT certification continues to carry value in the IT marketplace as the method of validating the skills of a candidate. Every vendor program addresses the mix of knowledge based skills, knowledge and experiential skills, and knowledge and perform skills — depending on the job role that is being validated. Most research, including the Certification Magazine Salary Survey for 2014, continues to identify the recognized and increasing value of the IT certification as measured by salaries, quality performance of tasks, value to a customer selecting a vendor, etc.
The difference between 2015 and 10 years ago might be the increased use of other complementary methods of validating and demonstrating skills — most recently through the introduction of badging. The ITCC TechCertRegistry initiative brings clout to the certification by increasing the validity of credentials posted there and to platforms like LinkedIn.
CertMag: Why are certifications a critical element of the IT landscape? How do certs benefit workers? How do they benefit employers?
IT Certification Council: Training to build skills remains the foundation of developing a solid workforce. However, the objective validation of the necessary skills possessed by an individual is directly linked to the value of the certification programs. As newer technologies are introduced and many candidates represent themselves as skilled in those areas, certifications provide an employer with one consistent way to evaluate prospective employees. IT solution providers can use certifications as one way to identify the skills of their staff team and partners. The quality and depth of the bench they bring to the proposed customer solution ensures an excellent user experience for the organization that purchases and utilizes the technology.
For individual workers, certifications represent a measurable benchmark. This achievement identifies and differentiates the skills they bring to their employer or customers that are validated by industry accepted exams requiring them to objectively demonstrate their skills. It also allows the worker to show increased proficiency which might directly contribute to financial and other rewards, and career advancement. The California Coalition of Community Colleges, an ITCC non-profit member organization, demonstrates the value of IT certifications by emphasizing them as part of their greater initiative to provide workforce enhanced training to the millions of students in their 112-college system.
CertMag: What do you see as being the most important reasons for individual to seek and obtain IT certifications?
IT Certification Council: The reasons could include: pride of achievement around a technology or solution area; salary increases or promotions; an indicator of quality and performance of certain tasks; and differentiating skills from other job candidates or project candidates.
CertMag: What do you see as being the key challenges that proponents of IT certification are facing? What can be done to overcome them?
IT Certification Council: As with all testing and certification programs, there is the challenge of developing new and more secure testing methods. In the IT industry, the skills and job roles we test for are varied across the industry and change as new technologies are introduced. Ensuring we are testing for relevant skills is a constant challenge requiring ongoing engagement with hiring managers, solution provider networks and other industry participants.
Some of the other challenges include:
- Continuing to show certifications have a positive impact on quality, speed, innovation, support, etc. in deploying and managing IT solutions is something we always need to be thinking about as certification program leaders.
- Ensuring the validity and authenticity of a certification used to be a bigger challenge. It still is but, ITCC has established the TechCertRegistry (TCR) to help with this. TCR provides a way for credential holders to consolidate, validate and present certifications from multiple programs through a system that is a trusted source of certification data fed directly by the IT firm that created and awarded that certification. This allows a secure way to verify a job candidate has the credentials they claim (e.g. on a resume) to hiring managers. It also enables users to publish their credentials to their LinkedIn profile.
- Securing the certification from theft and/or other forms of cheating will again always be a challenge. Where there is value, people will try to take shortcuts. Addressing this requires constant focus and collaborative efforts from major IT vendors and testing companies. We work hard to get ahead of the small number of dishonest individuals with new exam item types and new technologies that randomize questions and answers. We are also addressing those individuals that are stealing and selling tests online, and those candidates that acquire these "study guides" for their test preparation. This is one of the key initiatives of the ITCC as well as the ATP Test Security subgroups. A number of actions have been taken to both combat the theft and cheating, as well as to assure the continued value of the certification in the eyes of the honest candidate (the vast majority of certificate holders), as well as the hiring manager and customer.
- Addressing changes in the IT industry — as we know, the IT industry is very dynamic and keeping up and staying relevant in that market is a challenge for IT employees, hiring managers and all participants. We think certifications can actually help with that.
CertMag: Looking ahead, what would you say are your most important goals for IT certification?
IT Certification Council: Each of our members’ programs are focused on ensuring there is a well- trained ecosystem to support the deployment and maintenance of IT solutions — whether they provide certifications, training or services. Therefore, the goals of the ITCC are to support them in achieving that. To this end the ITCC enables companies to share best practices, discuss current industry challenges or develop tools and forums to reduce pain points in IT Certification.
The ITCC also takes on projects that no single company would. For example, last year we conducted the attitudes on cheating survey that provided some key insights to how test takers think about what constitutes cheating, what should be done about it and how it affects the perception and value of the credentials. In the coming year we’re going to invest in more research and we’ll be establishing a think tank to go explore what certification might look like in 5 or 10 years. The primary goal is ensure the skills and knowledge we certify are valuable and relevant in the IT industry for years to come.
For more information about ITCC please email: email@example.com
Duane Draper is Business Excellence Group Operations Manager for Microsoft and is the Chairman of the ITCC. He continues to participate as a member of the ITCC Securing Certifications and Marketing Task Forces and held the position of ITCC Membership Director in 2014.
Chuck Cooper is the Program Director for IBM Certifications and is the Chairman of the ITCC Securing Certifications Task Force. He has been a member of the ITCC Board of Directors since 2012 and currently holds the position of Vice-Chairman Emeritus.