When Certs Go Downmarket, Do They Lose Value?
This week's edition of Certification Watch includes an item titled "CompTIA Says Certifications Not Too Cool for School" that basically touts the benefits of early access to credentials that include A+, Security+ and Network+ before high school graduation.
The companion CompTIA feature, Learn How IT Certifications Ensure Students are Marketable and Employable after High School, goes on to reveal that students who complete IT certifications prior to graduation increasingly join the workforce thereafter, either in addition to, or instead of, continuing onto college. The article, posted to CompTIA's IT Careers Blog earlier this week, profiles several school districts in South Bend and Indianpolis, both in Indiana, whose curriculum includes training and testing on the CompTIA "big three" — A+, Network+ and Security+ — among other offerings right on campus.
Here in my local school district (Round Rock ISD) they begin teaching computing concepts as part of the informal curriculum in kindergarten, and start making formal computing classes available to students in 7th and 8th grade. Most of our high schools offer elements from both Microsoft Academy and Cisco Networking Academy as part of their curricula, and the IT course listings for the district include the following entries, most of which sound like they could plug directly into A+ and Network+:
? 5855: Computer Maintenance
? 5854: Computer Technician
? Digital and Interactive Media
? Principles of Information Technology
? Telecommunications and Networking
? Web Technologies
Everybody pretty much "gets" the idea that IT savvy has become a basic life and work skill, and that to be well-educated, high school graduates must develop at least basic literacy in the subject — with a chance to pursue things much further, should they so desire. That's probably why so many high school juniors and seniors in our district take classes that are cross-listed at our local community college, Austin Community College. ACC helps them dig into Cisco, Microsoft, CompTIA, and a wide variety of other certification-oriented coursework, both in the classroom and/or online.
Is this a good idea for impressionable young minds and bodies? I can't help but believe the answer is a resounding "Yes!" Not only does the CompTIA information speak directly to the value of such learning and experience, the participation rate (which stands at between 25 and 30 percent of the student body in my school district) and the level of interest directly from students also attest to the appeal and draw that IT exerts on young people.
My son has jumped on every programming class offered to him so far (including two years of classes starting at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, on a purely volunteer, first-come first-serve basis that routinely enjoyed or endured 200-300 percent oversubscriptions for classroom seats). He tells me he's raring to get into the official curriculum in middle school as soon as the first opportunity presents itself, come 7th grade. Former students from my HTML and programming classes of about the same age (give or take a year or two) are all pretty unanimous in their interest and appetite for this stuff.
That's why I'm firmly convinced that certs actually gain value, both for those who earn them, and the society that takes advantage of them, when they go downmarket. The interest is strong and intense, and only likely to increase with time as technology and computing pervade ever more aspects, nooks and crannies of daily life.
The need for skilled and capable IT practitioners is also soaring, so by bringing kids into this world sooner, rather than later, we only increase the feedstock for what seems inevitable anyway. And it just might help offset our current employment situation, where employers have openings for jobs, but where those jobs require skills — many of them directly in or related to information technology — not currently found in abundance in the pool of available workers.