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BLOG: IT certifications are finally helping your paycheck again

Bill Snyder | Aug. 16, 2013
After declining for six years, the value of many IT certifications is increasing -- but pick the right one if you want to cash in

After years of decline, employers are beginning to pay a bit more for some IT certifications. The increase isn't much, but after dropping nearly every quarter since 2007, the change in direction during the spring is notable, says David Foote, chief analyst at Foote Partners, which survey IT salaries and premium pay across more than 2,400 employers.

According to Foote's latest report, the second-quarter turnaround were led by certifications in:

  • Architecture/project management/process certifications, which increased in market value by 1.8 percent
  • Database certifications, up in value by 1.5 percent
  • Information security certifications, which gained 1.4 percent in value

Those increases refer to premium pay and do not represent an increase in base salaries, so overall gains are fairly small. What's more, those categories are large, and the premiums within them vary quite a bit.

You might think that slight gains in one quarter merely represent an outlier, but Foote says that's probably not the case. "I think certs pay will not go any lower if the economy stays as healthy as it is right now. It has reached the bottom for now, and I think we can expect either flat performance or mild gains like the past quarter for the remainder of the year," he tells me.

Although overall employment growth in the U.S. economy has been weak, IT has been adding large numbers of jobs for months. A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a net gain of 18,400 jobs in July across four industry job segments commonly associated with IT professionals, the second largest monthly gain in 2013. That's the third month this year in which more than 18,000 workers were added to U.S. payrolls.

The jobs board listed more than 84,802 IT jobs at the beginning of August, roughly the same number as a year ago. Of those, more than 50,000 are full-time. It's not possible to tell from the data how many of the listed jobs were created recently.

To be sure, the employment picture for IT professionals is better than it has been for some time, but getting the most money for your labor still requires smart career planning.

These are the hot certifications
Despite the one-quarter improvement in certification premiums, noncertified skills still command a greater premium. That's a long-term trend, and it remains to be seen if it will change.

In 2004, noncertified skills premiums hit a 13-year floor of 6.59 percent, compared to certification-related premiums of 7.79 percent, according to Foote Partners. By the spring of this year, the balance had shifted, with noncertified skills commanding a premium of 8.71 percent compared to 6.69 percent for certified skills.

"If you look at what employers want, you'll see that many of the skills and competencies that they need are not easily certified, or certifications for them simply don't exist," Foote said back in January when the premium value of certifications sank to an all-time low.


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