Surveys Say: Certifications Boost both Salary and Skills

GK and MSL stacks of Franklins

In two recent promotional pieces, training company Global Knowledge and technology giant Microsoft each attempt answers to the perennial (and familiar) question: Are IT certifications worth the time, money and effort they take to earn and maintain?"


In arriving at their own separate but equally affirmative responses, Microsoft and Global Knowledge both turn to surveys to come up with some interesting and telling points that help justify the time, toil and treasure involved in adding some alphabet soup after your name. The two pieces that provide the grist for this blog post are:


? A recent (and unsigned) Microsoft Learning Born To Learn blog post 6 Ways You're Better Off Certified (posted May 17)


? The latest installment of the Global Knowledge annual effort, the 2017 IT Skills and Salary Report (released May 5)


Of these two reports, Microsoft's is clearly the shorter and sweeter. It takes the form of a modified slide presentation of sorts, and consists of inspirational images and slogans along with some explanatory text. It's a little light on facts and figures, and doesn't really delve into the demographics or makeup of its survey population.


The GK report, on the other hand, is a whopping 72 pages long, and chock-full of facts and figures, plus beaucoup analysis and information of all kinds. Yet these two widely divergent documents come to several of the same conclusions, as you'll see in the recitation that follows.


Microsoft's Six Benefits from Certification


Given that the Microsoft Learning item is compact and direct, there's no need to digest and summarize to any large degree. I can convey the gist by repeating the 6 benefits (bolded text is repeated verbatim from the blog post) with some quick explanation and occasional bits of data for some of them:


? Certification helps IT pros gain momentum. That is, after earning certs IT pros find it easier to overcome career hurdles. Microsoft cites that 33 percent of certified professionals report landing a job after getting certified.


? Certification provides IT pros with useful, real-world knowledge to build on, so people can go from OK to excellent on the job as a result of getting certified. Microsoft reports that certified IT pros can ramp up on the job 39 percent faster that their non-certified peers, and 38 percent of MCPs said that certification helps them perform complicated tasks with greater confidence.


? Certification helps IT pros differentiate themselves and show fitness for a job when starting out in tech. Thus, certification functions as kind of a gold star on your resume when you jump into the applicant or candidate pool for any IT position. Microsoft goes onto observe that "91 percent of hiring managers consider certification as part of their hiring criteria."


? Certification provides an impetus and opportunity to keep skills so fresh it's like they're from the future. Keeping certifications current means constant learning and exposure to new tools, platforms, and technologies, so one need never worry about skills and knowledge becoming obsolete.


? Cha-ching: Microsoft reports that IT certifications help professionals get more pay raises and more chances to move up in your career. They observe further that certified pros earn 15 percent more than their non-certified peers, across the board, whe n they enter the IT workforce for the first time.


? Finally, Microsoft observes that certified IT pros get lots of recognition and respect. In fact, Microsoft goes on to claim that certified IT pros usually stay on the job 15 percent longer than other employees. They also mention how certification helps an IT Pro become the go-to person at work.


Global Knowledge Covers Lots of Bases


GK and MSL contented IT worker

In the interest of self-disclosure, I must report that I helped to write the 2015 version of this report, and know the staffers at Global Knowledge who work on these things. (I made no contribution to, nor had any foreknowledge of, this latest report, however.) The 2017 opus marks the 10th consecutive year that Global Knowledge has surveyed IT professionals and management to produce this report.


As usual, it's packed with all kinds of interesting information and insight. While I recommend grabbing a copy and reading the whole thing, I'll stick to a quick recap of what it calls its "Primary Findings." This survey was conducted from September 12 through November 4, 2016, and includes responses from more than 12,500 IT employees worldwide.


More than half of the survey respondents are from the United States and Canada, and the rest from various countries around the globe. Survey sponsors include the likes of Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, IBM, and Microsoft on the vendor side, and CompTIA, ISACA, and more on the certification side.


The Primary Findings (which appear on Page 6 of the report) from this survey are:


? Skills Gaps are a Global Concern: Organizations are growing increasingly aware of, and concerned about, the difference between the skills and knowledge that their IT staffers possess and the skills and knowledge they really need to do their jobs (and to meet organizational objectives). This helps explain a strong and growing interest in training and certification for such people.


? Cloud Computing, Cybersecurity and Networking Skills are In Demand:: IT and executive staff alike decry a shortage of talent in all these areas, with the strongest needs in cybersecurity and cloud computing. Growing salaries for professionals at all levels in these fields reflects strong demand for and a limited supply of qualified talent to occupy open job slots.


? Certifications Matter: Benefits of employee certification reported include increased productivity, faster troubleshooting, and fewer skills gaps. Average salary difference between certified and non-certified staff in the same jobs is around $8,400 or 11.7 percent in the United States and Canada, and ranges from 6.4 percent in Asia-Pacific to 12.8 percent in Europe-Middle East. The difference is even higher for managers and project/team leads (all of whom the Global Knowledge report lumps into a "decision-makers" category).


? Average Salaries are Up in the United States and Canada: Salaries are up an average of 5.7 percent in the United States and Canada, well above inflation (2-to-3 percent in 2016), with an average of $88,460 and a median of $82,000 in these North American countries. Outside this region, salaries are all over the place (this is the first year the Global Knowledge report has covered salary data in depth, so there's no basis for trends or longitudinal analyses).


? Business is Good, but Workloads are Heavy: 59 percent of all respondents report business conditions ranging from slow growth mode to significantly improving. That said, two-thirds of respondents report facing challenging if not difficult workloads. Because two-thirds of decision makers also report challenges in finding and hiring qualified staff, these conditions look likely to persist into the foreseeable future.


The Nut is the Net-Net!


Thus, the big takeaway from both surveys is that IT certification indeed has real value, both monetarily and in terms of keeping IT pros well-salaried (and sought after) and productive. It's nice to know that some evidence is readily available to justify the time, effort and expense involved in getting and staying certified.


"Keep up the good work," it seems, also means that the good work will find its way to your desk!


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.