But badges are hardly a silver bullet for job seekers and aren't the first item a recruiter looks for. When Autodesk's head hunters initially contacted O'Farrill, they didn't mention his badges and may not have known that he had them, O'Farrill says.
"The industry still wants validated proof of a skill," says James Stanger, who manages the continuing education program for CompTIA, an industry association. "Badges are complementary to certifications, but they aren't replacing them."
While conventional certifications have a long history of earning premium pay for job holders, there's no evidence yet that a badge will give an IT worker a boost in the paycheck.
Certifications: Slow and expensive, but proven
With certifications already well-established as a means of validating IT skills, is another credentialing system even necessary?
IBM's Leaser believes so. The quickening pace of technological change, particularly in areas like big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, has meant that the fairly lengthy time it takes to develop a new or updated certification is simply too long, says Leaser. "We needed to update faster. In the future, certifications may be limited to skills that have a longer horizon."
There's another downside to certifications: They can be expensive for both the employee and the employer, says Kevin Raxter, managing partner at The Centrics Group, an Atlanta-based staffing company. "They can cost several thousand dollars, plus books," he says.
Even so, survey after survey shows that employers are willing to pay a significant premium for the right certification. The average market value for 395 IT certifications increased for 11 consecutive months through the end of February, according to Foote Partners, which tracks the value of certifications across 2,815 employers. It may be quite some time, if ever, before badges establish a similar track record.
IBM's Leaser may be right about the future of certifications, but hiring in IT can be a complex process that at times involves more than one company. The Centrics Group's Raxter says that many of his clients simply insist that companies they contract with have a certain number of employees with specific certifications. Until badges have that level of buy-in, they may not supplant certificates as a proven route to better pay.
In fact, because skills badges are relatively new, hiring managers like Raxter don't quite know what to make of them. "If I get a résumé that says, 'I have an IBM cloud strategy badge,' that tells me nothing; I don't know what it is," he says.
Bobby Yates, CEO of Grexo Technology Group, a Texas-based IT services company, says the real value of a skills badge is unclear to him. A few job applicants have presented badges, "but I'm not sure if they are really just a digital version of a certification," he says. Grexo uses badges internally to a limited extent as a way to keep employees engaged. But ultimately, "I don't see them as a more valuable hiring tool than certifications," says Yates.
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