Guest post: In the midst of staggering business and economic turmoil, you need all the tools at your disposal to help shore up your career prospects. See why TechRepublic’s Erik Eckel believes IT certification will become increasingly important for IT pros and the organizations that rely on them. You can find more posts like this [...]

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Guest post: In the midst of staggering business and economic turmoil, you need all the tools at your disposal to help shore up your career prospects. See why TechRepublic’s Erik Eckel believes IT certification will become increasingly important for IT pros and the organizations that rely on them. You can find more posts like this on TechRepublic’s 10 Things blog.

Many technology professionals believe IT certifications reached their peak during the height of the dot-com boom. But such a mindset may well prove shortsighted. The subsequent dot-com bomb led to an exodus of certified technicians from the industry. Then, as the dust settled, IT certifications were reworked. Accreditations were better mapped to real-world needs and expertise. Program flaws were eliminated. Training programs improved.

Now, in turbulent economic times, IT certifications will provide more relevance than ever before. With unprecedented bailouts, widespread cost and workforce reductions, and a slew of new platforms being released, IT accreditations will assume renewed importance in 2009. Here are 10 reasons why IT certifications will prove important in 2009.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.
#1: Job retention

Organizations are laying off employees at alarming levels. When wildly successful franchises such as the National Football League downsize 10 percent, you know the economy’s in trouble.

When faced with difficult personnel decisions, organizations generally try to retain the most skillful and knowledgeable employees. Certified IT pros have a credible advantage over their colleagues. While holding a current IT accreditation is no guarantee against being laid off, the more education, expertise, and skills you can demonstrate, the better.

#2: Salary maintenance

Many organizations — and city and state governments in particular — are asking employees to accept salary reductions. Whereas staff may have grumbled over a scant four or five percent salary increase a few years ago, today many are being asked to cut their compensation by those amounts.

Holding current IT certification does not guarantee you won’t face salary reductions. But possessing specific certifications — including A+, Security+, Microsoft credentials, and other accreditations –often qualifies employees for higher pay grades. Thus, when forced to accept a salary reduction, you’re more likely to be earning more than your non-certified colleagues.
#3: Hiring and promotion eligibility

Despite the economic downturn, some companies are still hiring. Others are actively promoting from within. Recent headlines prove medical facilities, health insurance companies, and manufacturers, among others, continue expansion efforts.

Significant competition exists for these open positions. With unemployment exceeding six percent, a number expected to grow in 2009, jockeying for good jobs will only increase. If your resume is bolstered by new and timely certifications, you’ll gain an advantage over others applying for the same role. For better or worse, in cases where two otherwise equal candidates are competing for the same lucrative job offer, one applicant’s certifications could prove the deciding factor. Certification may even be required to apply for the position.
#4: Career improvement

Many technology professionals feel they’ve done all they can do as a support technician or network administrator. They may be working in positions where they’ll receive no additional responsibilities, pay, or challenges unless they move up the corporate ladder.

IT certifications can certainly open the door to such promotions. By completing project management training and proving command of the fundamentals by earning a Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Professional or CompTIA Project+ certification, an administrator can demonstrate initiative and expertise in an effort to win a project management promotion. Likewise, a support tech might leverage a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) accreditation to gain a new position as a server administrator.
#5: New-generation certs increase relevance

Certifications are receiving a boost from considerable reworking. Many organizations, including CompTIA and Cisco, are revamping and redesigning exams and instructional initiatives. And Microsoft really stands out due to the variety and impact of changes made to its training and certification program.

Microsoft’s new generation of certifications — including the new MCITP, Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), and Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) accreditations — map directly to real-world needs. The MCTS, for example, measures a candidate’s skill, knowledge, and expertise deploying, maintaining, and administering specific Microsoft platforms.

Microsoft’s new MCITP credential, meanwhile, is aimed at helping organizations meet specific staffing needs. The certification is designed to demonstrate expertise within job roles, such as server administrator or desktop support technician, thereby better enabling hiring managers to spot qualified, well-targeted candidates.

To keep these new-generation certifications relevant, Microsoft is expiring new credentials when mainstream support for the corresponding technology platforms is retired. Those changes, combined with the introduction of classroom and lab training requirements for new higher-level certifications, are helping put the shine back on IT certifications in 2009.
#6: Organizations will become more discriminating

Consultants can benefit from IT certifications in 2009, too. As clients more closely guard expenses and become more discerning, organizations needing to outsource computer services and support will want to ensure the firms and technicians they hire are competent. IT certifications are a great method for consultants to demonstrate their skill, knowledge, and expertise to potential clients.
#7: New products will gain momentum

A slew of new products is sure to gain momentum in 2009. Microsoft’s 2008-branded server products lead the charge of new technologies that will gain market share throughout the year.

As organizations begin replacing older or failed equipment with these new products, and as myriad other factors require that the new platforms be deployed, these organization will seek qualified IT technicians, managers, and consultants to plan, deploy, and administer the upgrades. If you can demonstrate your skills and expertise with these platforms, you’ll be better positioned to provide those services. By becoming certified on new technologies that gain traction in 2009, you’ll not only strengthen your resume, but you’ll also position yourself well by aligning your expertise with these new products.
#8: Organizations must minimize downtime

Server, desktop, and network downtime, as well as mean times to repair, must improve. This is true for most every organization, but especially for those that have reduced staff, as fewer employees are available to pick up the slack when errors or failures occur.

When running lean, as many companies have been forced to do, remaining employees’ workloads are often increased. Thus, it’s imperative that organizations fully utilize remaining staff.

IT certification programs are one method of ensuring that staff members have the training and instruction required to fulfill specific responsibilities. Employees who are better trained and educated as the result of certification efforts will be less likely to commit errors that lead to failure. And when outages do occur, the corresponding education and training will prove helpful in speeding recovery.
#9: Organizations need to reduce costs

When sales or funding levels dive, reducing operating costs becomes critical. During periods of recession, organizations are obligated to maximize efficiency. As a result, productivity requirements become greater for each worker.

From a cold and calculating perspective, IT certification is one proven method for leveraging an organization’s salary expenses. By ensuring that technicians have specific skills via training and certification programs, whether those skills target desktop support or network design and optimization, organizations know that IT certification efforts help maximize ROI.

A Kotler Marketing Group study published by CompTIA revealed certifications enabled organizations to reduce expenses, identify knowledge gaps, and improve productivity. In addition, certifications proved helpful in improving uptime and reducing turnover.
#10: Confidence proves handy during turbulent times

If nothing else, during periods of stress and upheaval, it helps to have confidence. While you can’t insulate yourself from major economic trends, you can leverage certifications to know you’ve taken prudent steps to keep skills current and make yourself an attractive employee, both to your current employer and to prospective hiring managers, should a pink slip arrive.

Some 75 percent of IT professionals responding to the Kotler study said their CompTIA certifications make them more attractive to employers, while 84 percent believe they now have the skills necessary to fulfill a job’s requirements. Further, some 93% agreed or strongly agreed that customers felt they are in good hands when working with them, due in part to their certifications.

With numerous other factors seemingly out of your control, IT certifications present at least one element you can command. In an age of unprecedented business and economic turmoil, the resulting confidence boost can only help.