This feature first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Once you’ve gotten aboard, the certification train just keeps rolling on down the tracks. Just like with a real train, of course, nobody rides for free — generally speaking — which is one of the first things we like to ask about when giving an overview of the certification process and survey respondents' preferred methods of getting things done. Who’s paying for all of this?
Based on this year’s results, there are basically two options: Pay the total cost yourself, or pass the buck to your boss. About 23 percent of those surveyed paid for their most recent credential out of their own wallets, while 57 percent got a free ride from their employer. Among the outliers, a little less than 6 percent shared the cost with their employer, roughly 5 percent were reimbursed by vendors, and about 4.5 percent got certified entirely free of charge. Barely moving the needle: state, city and federal assistance programs; scholarships; tech conferences; and borrowing from friends or relatives.
There’s a vast pool of training materials available to certification candidates, but far from everyone uses them. An impressive 41 percent of survey respondents spent nothing on training materials, either relying on other methods of preparation or simply trusting to their wits and experience. Among those who did shell out, 25 percent spent less than $100, while 22 percent spent between $100 and $500.
Seminars, workshops and other forms of instructor-led training are even less widely utilized, with 62 percent of those surveyed steering clear of the classroom entirely. If you do choose to pony up for an instructor, then be prepared to make a considerable investment. While about 30 percent of respondents kept their total spending under $1,000, 11 percent spent between $1,000 and $10,000.
One thing that probably influences spending (or lack thereof) on study materials is that the best preparation for many people is simply going to work every day. On-the-job training was deemed the most effective certification preparation by the largest single group of those surveyed, with strong satisfaction also derived from practice exams and self-study books. Human instructors, in that regard, are roughly on par with product documentation.
On the flip side, you probably shouldn’t plan to let peer-to-peer sharing carry the day: Almost nobody rated internet lists and forums as being either “excellent” or “very good” as a means of certification preparation.
There are a variety of rationales for certification, and though salary is often a primary motivator, it’s far from the only reason that people choose to certify. For many who responded to our survey, it boils down to job skills. The two most popular non-salary reasons to become certified are a desire to improve skills used at a current job, and a desire to become better qualified to apply for a future job.
Also registering strongly are a desire to gain increased self-confidence, as well as a desire to gain increased peer recognition. (Before you can desire to become certified, of course, you have to find out about certification programs. Most of those surveyed said that they learn about certification programs primarily from employers, acquaintances and internet searches. Less broadly effective, but still a valued source of information for many are industry conventions and industry publications.)
Finally, satisfaction with certifications is generally high. Slightly more than 68 percent of survey respondents either strongly agree (24 percent) or agree (44 percent) that certification has increased demand for their skills. And in terms of day-to-day workplace rewards, 59 percent of those surveyed either strongly agree (17 percent) or agree (42 percent) that certification has increased their workplace productivity, while 62 percent strongly agree (19 percent) or agree (43 percent) that certification has improved their problem solving skills.
TABLE TALK : For many IT professionals, once it starts, certification never really stops. There's always room for one more certification. We asked those who responded to the Salary Survey to tell us what's next on their radar. That's how we got this list of 50 certs (from the print edition) that are picking up steam in the marketplace.