Survey: HR Increasingly Sees value of IT Certifications

By Kathy Gurchiek May 11, 2015
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HR professionals increasingly view information technology (IT) certification as an important factor in making IT hiring decisions, but finding the right candidates still remains a challenge, research finds.

HR Perceptions of IT Training and Certification from CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association for the IT industry, surveyed HR executives, managers and professionals from 400 organizations in the U.S. in September 2014.

“Professional certifications—designations demonstrating an individual’s validated competency in particular aspects of technology—have long been a cornerstone of the IT workforce,” said Amy Carrado, director of research and market intelligence for CompTIA, in a news release.

However, “the unique role of certification in the IT field has long been a mystery to many HR and business executives unsure of their true value.”

That mystery, she explained to SHRM Online, is because “there are hundreds of IT certifications, and unless IT hiring managers specifically request certain certifications in a job ad, [HR] probably wouldn’t be aware” of the different certifications and their significance. Some IT certifications are competency-based, while others focus on a specific understanding of a particular interface.

However, CompTIA’s findings indicate that the mystery around IT certification is changing for HR, she noted. More than two-thirds of respondents to the 2014 survey indicated that IT certifications are very valuable, up from 30 percent in 2011.

The increased interest in IT certification is occurring more among employers looking for job candidates who have an understanding of encryption, according to James Stanger, senior director of product management. Stangeris in charge of all of CompTIA certifications.

“Increasingly, companies have a large ‘attack surface’—firewalls, the web server—making it easier for the [hacker] to attack the system,” he noted, adding that those systems are increasingly complex.

“Attackers are vendor-neutral. They will go after anything they can exploit. Organizations are realizing that [individuals with IT certification] are having much more insight into problem-solving, they communicate better and because of that, they are more productive,” Stanger told SHRM Online.

With certification, “somebody needs to sign off on these skills at some level,” he said.

Nearly three-fourths of respondents surveyed said they often list certification as a requirement for certain IT jobs and use its attainment as a professional development or training tool. More than two-thirds said they often view candidates who hold an IT certification as being willing to work hard and meet a goal, and 60 percent thought certification confirmed the candidate’s subject matter knowledge and expertise.

HR values Certified Professionals

“HR executives also said certified hires get up to speed more quickly, are more likely to stay with the company long term, have a higher likelihood of being promoted and generally perform better than noncertified IT staff,” Carrado noted in the news release.

HR professionals who have a strong familiarity with certifications—92 percent of respondents held professional certifications themselves—valued IT certification more highly than others surveyed. They also are more likely to cite certification as a preference or requirement for IT job listings, according to the report.

The size of an organization also tends to be a consideration in how IT certifications factor into hiring. Small firms often use certifications as a requirement for certain jobs, and to measure a willingness to work and confirm subject matter expertise. Medium and larger organizations more often use IT certifications to differentiate between job candidates and as a screening criteria.

Still, more than 90 percent of respondents said that filling IT openings with the right candidates had been challenging over the past 12 months.

Employers typically want someone with a deep understanding of IT.

“You don’t just want someone who is pure Cisco, for example, but also has a broad understanding [of IT],” Stanger said. “People need to know how all of this fits together and what the implications are when you connect one system with another.” Also important is the ability to look ahead and anticipate IT issues.

Employers are looking for people with “the right combination of the hard skills ... combined with the soft skills. Getting that right kind of mix is an issue,” Stanger said. “You also need people who understand project management and understand what it means to work as a team.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.

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