This feature first appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Once upon a time when “Amazon” was still best known for being a river in South America, flannel was a budding fashion statement, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political career consisted entirely of having served as chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, a tech support professional enjoyed the status of minor deity among mere mortals.
In that far off time and place, having the ability to “fix” computer stuff conferred a level of respect and deference generally reserved in nature almost exclusively for silverback gorillas or Bambi’s dad. Fast forward a couple of decades, however, and information technology has become so ubiquitous that replacing an IT lemon is almost more cost-effective than attempting to restore it to health.
In this easy-come age of saturation level availability and peak functionality of technology, the standing of computer repair and software recovery workers has slipped a few notches. No longer considered to be an upper echelon miracle worker, the IT support professional of the modern day is often an entry-level stooge marking time in a make-good beginner’s role until something better comes along.
The something better that comes along eventually may not be a more important and higher-salaried job for the worker — automated processes and AI-driven replacement technology are casting a long shadow across the help desk of the present. Those solutions remain outside the immediately foreseeable future, however, so businesses and other organizations are still reliant on humans for support.
How reliant? As of 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that there are 835,300 “computer support specialists” in the United States alone, with “faster than average” growth in the field of 11 percent predicted from 2016 through 2026. That’s 88,500 more jobs projected to be added to an already robust workforce just in the next decade.
And while it may be more hallmark of the past than indicator of the present, one of the most popular and widely held IT certifications in the world is CompTIA’s A+ credential, the gold standard for tech support professionals. If you want to work in computer support, there are jobs to be had.
The end is NOT nigh
In keeping with our revised survey strategy, introduced in the final Certification Magazine of 2017, our recently conducted Computer Technician Certification Survey pivoted away from salary to focus on other aspects of IT support certification. Since, as noted above, many believe the era of human-driven computer support is waning, we referred that question to men and women already in the field.
For now, at least, the potential for panic among those who jobs are more or less directly at stake is at a low ebb. Just 10.2 percent of those surveyed are very concerned about the possibility of being replaced in some or all of their job responsibilities by automated processes or AI, with 13.2 percent who are concerned, and 21.6 percent who are somewhat concerned.
A notable 55.1 percent of respondents, on the other hand, essentially shrugged off the possibility entirely, declaring themselves to be not concerned.
And though many companies already use remote call centers to handle IT support, there’s only a moderately higher level of concern among certified support professionals about being replaced in some or all of their job responsibilities by outsourcing or contractors. A fair-sized 18.1 percent of respondents are very concerned, with 15.7 percent who are concerned, and 21.1 percent who are somewhat concerned.
Despite the fact that replacement by other human workers is a here-and-now possibility, however, the “color me not concerned” slice of the pie accounts for a robust 45.2 percent of those surveyed.
My job is the best job?
The job of an actual computer support specialist requires cordial and effective communication, as well as the ability to address a wide variety of both hardware and software issues. Popular culture, on the other hand, often depicts tech guys (and gals) as being surly grouches whose work is rarely more complicated than instructing some poor cubicle dweller to either hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete, or turn their computer off and then turn it on again.
Actual certified computer technicians, however, report that their work is rarely listless and dull. Indeed, 78.7 percent of those surveyed either agree (56.1 percent) or strongly agree (22.6 percent) that the work they do is challenging.
Given that 15.2 percent of those surveyed are on the fence, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, we’re left with only a tiny segment of certified support specialists who are at least a little bored with the work. All told, 4.3 percent of respondents disagree that the work they do is challenging, while 1.8 percent strongly disagree.
There’s less of a consensus regarding how much work there is to be done than whether or not the work is complex and engaging. Roughly 45 percent of respondents either agree (31.7 percent) or strongly agree (14.4 percent) that they are overworked, while 37.1 percent neither agree nor disagree. That leaves 16 percent who either disagree (13.8 percent) or strongly disagree (3 percent) that they are overworked.
Certification = employment
Help desk and IT support jobs generally have been a bastion of IT certification for years. And though it’s not exactly what you’d call a stranglehold, certification does have a firm grip on the support industry: A significant 43 percent of those surveyed say there were required to hold one or more support credentials in order to accept their current job.
Even in cases where certification is not required, it’s likely to be a factor in any hiring decision that gets made. Asked to estimate the impact of certification on being hired at their current job, 56 percent of certified support specialists said it was either influential (24.9 percent) or very influential (31.1 percent), with an additional 16.9 percent reporting that certification was at least somewhat influential.
It’s also true that many choose to get certified with an eye on future employment. Setting aside the popular rationales of gaining skills and increasing compensation, we asked those surveyed to name the two most important benefits of getting a certification.
Three of the top four responses are directly employment-related, including the top two. By a wide margin, the most popular choice is “Gain qualification for a future job,” followed by “Improve or confirm my qualifications for my current job.” The self-affirming desire to “Gain greater confidence in my own skills” is next, followed by “Become eligible for positions of greater responsibility with my current employer.”
Workplace and education
Every business needs some degree of IT support in 2018. According to our survey audience, however, a great deal of the computer support jobs available are focused in three workplace sectors: computer or network consulting (19.3 percent of those surveyed), government (15.2 percent), and education (14 percent).
Other popular employment sectors include manufacturing (5.4 percent of respondents), systems or network integration (4.7 percent), finance (4.1 percent), telecommunications (4.1 percent), and health or medical services (3.5 percent).
For teens and young adults who are considering computer support as a potential career, definitely don’t rule out higher education. Among survey respondents, 70 percent pursued their formal education far enough to hold some level of university degree, including 31.8 percent who topped out with a bachelor’s degree, and 22.1 percent who went one step further and claimed a master’s degree.
There’s more information to come from our survey. Over the coming months, we’ll be posting additional findings online at CertMag.com, where you can also find ongoing dispatches from our 2018 Salary Survey.
TABLE TALK : How satisfied are certified computer support professionals with their training and certification experience?