The case for IT certification

Hiring managers should consider the value of certifications when identifying much-needed IT candidates

Human resource professionals and non-technical hiring managers are often at a disadvantage when seeking new information technology (IT) employees.

It can be hard to know whether candidates possess the precise knowledge and skills to accurately meet current job demands.

This presents a considerable problem for Canadian businesses. They simply can’t afford to run the risk of hiring unskilled staff to maintain and deliver technology to customers.

The gap between an organization’s skill need and the current capabilities of its workforce can reduce a firm’s competitiveness and productivity by negatively affecting technical, process and organizational innovation. Recent figures from Statistics Canada confirm Canada is lagging behind the United States in productivity growth in recent years due to an inability to quickly adapt to new technology. This is apparent within the IT industry, where there is a constant requirement for skilled workers.

And, according to IT staffing firm CNC Global in Toronto, there has been a 17-per-cent increase in the demand for IT professionals in Canada since last year. The lack of skilled IT professionals also affects the ability to deploy technology quickly and effectively to customers — so employers are now scrambling to find ways to identify and hire qualified candidates.

Bridging the IT skills gap

The sheer pace of technology development poses a real challenge but IT certification can help. Certified professionals who possess knowledge of today’s pervasive technologies can help grow a business, improve the bottom line and deliver technology and services to customers at a faster pace.

According to a recent IDC Canada report, Value of Certification: Team Certification and Organizational Performance, 80 per cent of IT managers polled believe their teams require a significant amount of task-specific skills to perform their assigned duties. And while most managers consider certifications to be important to team and organizational performance, most IT managers are unaware of the impact a team of certified professionals has on overall performance. According to this report, having a sufficient percentage of certified team members can increase performance by up to 25 percentage points.

Gaining certification on a specific technology or series of technologies, especially when directly related to job roles, can significantly boost career growth and enable IT professionals to find rewarding opportunities.

The value of certification

Certification can help HR professionals identify potential talent by providing validated evidence of the capability of a potential new hire. The skill that is directly measured can often be explicitly mapped to a particular task or series of tasks related to job roles.

Certification is useful for validating IT employee-skill portfolios — an important function in the hiring process. Coupling skills certification with real-world experience is a valuable combination to employers. According to IDC, two-thirds of managers believe certifications improve the level of service and support offered to IT customers, and three-quarters believe certifications are important to team performance. Hiring managers should regard certifications as a corporate selling point.

While it’s true certification does not guarantee an applicant has the relevant skills for each IT role, it should be seen as evidence a candidate is knowledgeable about technology advancements and serious about her career goals.

HR professionals in the IT industry also need to ensure new hires possess real-world experience, so hiring internally is another option, particularly if a qualified candidate within the organization has the experience required to step up to a new job role.

Investing in upskilling existing employees and providing them with opportunities to take part in training and certification exams to enhance their skills is a strategic and cost-effective alternative.

Certification takes guesswork out of hiring IT

Knowing a particular candidate is certified provides an employer with a reasonably accurate picture of that person’s skills and deliverables.

It helps hiring managers ensure a potential employee has the ability and desire to stay current and understand the changing industry landscape. Furthermore, managers who hire certified IT professionals demonstrate they are committed to placing capable and qualified people at the service of their customers.

There is a clear competitive advantage for employers because a workforce made up of such individuals can demonstrate higher productivity and possess more of the skills customers value. Striking the correct balance between training, certification and experience is a recipe for business success.

Airlee Gigun is a partner account manager, learning solutions, with Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont. She can be reached at [email protected]. Bruce Johnson is a partner with ObjectSharp Consulting in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected].

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