The Value of Lifelong Learning in IT

Employers are looking for evidence-based knowledge and skills in the Information Technology field. Earning a college degree coupled with industry-based certifications sends the right message to an employer seeking applicants with theory-based knowledge and practical skills. Some organizations simply refuse to interview or even consider candidates for a position if they do not list a current certification and hold a college degree.

The college degree sets the stage for mid-level and senior level positions as most organizations expect strategic, problem-solving, critical, and creative thinking at the managerial level. While a college degree opens the door to advancement and promotion in an organization, too many students graduate with theory-based knowledge and few demonstrative skills. Employers are finding they have to expend additional funds and resources to provide IT graduates the skills they need to perform in the IT world.

Employers want applicants who not only say they can configure computer systems, build customized software, install needed security and network solutions, and exercise key applications skills, but are also able to prove their abilities. A college degree, combined with industry-based certifications, allows graduates and individuals seeking to transition to the IT field to verify their skills and add to their confidence in demonstrating their expertise.

The market is flooded with certifications from various vendors, but there are only a few which are in high demand. Certification demand is typically driven by requested technical solutions. For example, now that cyber security has become the focus of the Department of Defense and most organizations, the Department of the Air Force now requires airmen in certain career fields to secure CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA A+ certifications while completing their career development course.

Selecting the right certification is critical. Selecting the right certification depends on a number of factors including the position of interest, the needs of the employer, the cost, the vendor, experience and expertise. Some certifications cost more than others and are more rigorous in content. So selecting the preferred certification requires research.

For example, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification is more technically challenging for most applicants than a CompTIA Security+ certification. Certified Internet Web Professional (CIW) reinforced, that “certifications verify that you have the skills necessary to master today’s technology-driven world. And in today’s tough economy, it is imperative that your abilities set you apart in the minds of the hiring managers. (Certified Internet Web Professional. (n.d.). Professionals. Retrieved from http://www.ciwcertified.com/About_CIW/Why_CIW/professionals.php).”

Certifications are typically career field and industry focused. In fact, the more specific the certification, the greater the probability applicants will out-pace their competitors. According to www.globalknowledge.com “15 Top Paying Certifications for 2013,” the following are key certifications to consider for those who care to compete in the workforce with professional—based skills and knowledge.

  1. PMP: Project Management Professional – $105,750
  2. CISSP: Certified Information Systems Security Professional – $103,299
  3. MCSD: Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer – $97,849
  4. MCDBA: Microsoft Certified Database Administrator – $95,950
  5. CCDA®: Cisco Certified Design Associate – $94,799
  6. MCAD: Microsoft Certified Application Developer – $93,349
  7. VCP-DV: VMware Certified Professional Datacenter Virtualization – $92,400
  8. CNE: Certified Novell Engineer – $91,350
  9. ITIL v3 Foundation – $90,900
  10. CCA: Citrix Certified Administrator - Citrix XenServer 6 – $90,850
  11. MCITP: Database Administrator – $90,200
  12. MCTS: SQL Server 2005 – $90,100
  13. MCT: Microsoft Certified Trainer – $89,949
  14. CCNP®: Cisco Certified Network Professional – $89,749
  15. CCA: Citrix Certified Administrator – Citrix XenDesktop 5 – $89,499

Certification alone may not guarantee complete evidence of qualifications, but it takes professional credentials to a more competitive level. Individuals with certifications set themselves apart from those on the same playing field who have not earned industry-based certifications. A degree combined with certifications provides employerswith the best insight that an applicant can deliver on expectations at the time of hire, saving on-the-job training time and dollars.

 

Dr. Novadean Watson-Stone is the program director, Information Technology at American Public University in Manassas, Va.

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