Niche IT certs boost employability, salary

Certifications maintain one's relevancy in the industry, say recruiters and educators, who note a growing demand for skills in niche areas such as cloud technology.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

IT certifications ensure professionals continuously learn and stay relevant in the job industry to keep up with technology advancements, say IT recruitment and education agencies, who also note those with certified skills in newer, niche areas such as cloud computing are increasingly in demand and can command higher salaries.

According to Network World, a report by Foote Partners in February stated that because of the immense popularity of Microsoft certifications among IT professionals, the gap between demand and supply has narrowed, causing such certifications to "drop" in value. Correspondingly, a "smaller pay boost" can be expected for holders of Microsoft certifications, compared to other certifications, the IT benchmark and research firm noted.

Industry players ZDNet Asia contacted confirmed that competencies relating to Microsoft technologies are well sought after--both from employers and IT professionals--but argued that the value of these certifications have not diminished.

Gavin Henshaw, head of Kelly IT Resources division at recruitment agency Kelly Services, pointed out that as Redmond is a dominant force in the IT community, Microsoft product knowledge is in high demand. One example is the MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist), he said in an e-mail interview.

Demand for Microsoft expertise is expected to continue in the foreseeable future, he added.

Don Field, senior director of certifications for Microsoft Learning, said the company continually invests in new and enhanced Microsoft certifications, updating the programs and measuring them for relevance so that they remain effective tools for job satisfaction and career growth.

These efforts ensure Microsoft certifications are relevant and validate real-world skills and job-related experiences used every day, thereby improving the performance of IT professionals and making them more vital to their organizations, Field explained in an e-mail.

Haris Jumadi, marketing manager of IT school New Horizons, also concurred, noting that there are currently more Microsoft Certified Professionals than any other certification available, given that the company's offerings are used in the majority of companies.

Niche skills, niche pay
But as to whether more people having the same certified-IT specialization causes a drop in value and consequently salary expectations, Jumadi said "the answer is both yes and no".

The value of a particular certification depends on the demand it generates from the industry, while employability depends a lot on demand by employers, he explained in an e-mail.

Professionals with niche skills are able to command higher salaries because of scarcity; for example, storage professionals receive much higher remuneration as there are not that many who specialize in this field, Jumandi explained.

Kelly Services' Henshaw added that many companies still hold onto legacy systems, so professionals with older skillsets are needed to maintain these systems and therefore still command high salaries.

He noted that when it comes to a niche and upcoming technology, it is common for employers to seek candidates with newer, more up-to-date certifications. While "older certifications are in no way defunct", they are deemed to be of "lesser value" to employers in the current market, he said.

For instance, with cloud deemed as a "new age in IT" coupled with a current lack of experience in this field, anyone certified with VCP (VMware Certified Professional) is in a much better position to find a job than those who are not certified, said Henshaw.

Hence, noting future trends and advancement opportunities, and focusing on new technologies and the relevant certifications would be a "better bet" for IT professionals, he advised.

"Hot" certifications
Alvin Teo, marketing director of Informatics school, said in an e-mail he has observed a "steady increase" in takeup for the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician (CCENT) certification programs.

With Internet connectivity and networking becoming essential in today's environment, there is a huge demand for qualified technical experts in networking at both the LAN and WAN levels, he explained. Dependency on the Internet also increases the need for security, hence employers seek CEH-holders to penetrate or "hack" into networks and computer systems to find and fix computer security vulnerabilities, he added.

According to Jumadi of New Horizons, Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) Enterprise Administrator, Microsoft Certified Professional Developed (MCPD) ASP.NET Developer, Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) Java SE 6 Programmer and CEH are some of the current "hot and most sought-after" certifications by both job seekers and employers in Singapore. These programs cover the core sectors of the industry, from systems to networking, project management and software development.

The fastest growing certifications in terms of demand, he added, are business skills programs such as Project Management Professional (PMP) and ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) v3 Foundation in IT service management. "IT [has become] the backbone for majority of companies today, [so] employers want IT professionals who are also adept at making business decisions".

Kelly Services' Henshaw noted that PMP and ITIL are "not new", but "still highly regarded at a more project management level".

Certifications versus experience
The headhunters also acknowledged that certification is essential in some industry sectors but in others, someone with experience may be equally valuable to someone accredited with the proper certifications.

Jumadi pointed out that "certifications do matter" as they provide training and exam validation to an individual to keep them relevant in the tech industry, where continuous learning is "of upmost importance". It also assures employers that their staff know how to optimize technology, he added.

"Experience is still important in job search, but complemented with proper training and certification, it makes one far more valuable," he said.

Informatics' Teo expressed the same sentiments, pointing out that an IT certification is about specialized training and qualifies a person for a specific job which requires these skills.

Similar to how a degree is now regarded as the minimum criteria--as compared to a decade ago when it was the impetus for a higher salary--certifications are now a prerequisite and a person would "lose out" in the job market if he does not possess the relevant ones.

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