Make IT certifications global

IT recruitment has fallen through the floor. Reports abound about the severity of the situation. One shows a drop from 57,000...

IT recruitment has fallen through the floor. Reports abound about the severity of the situation. One shows a drop from 57,000 jobs advertised in the UK in 2001 to only 6,000 in 2002. Yet government figures point to a widening IT skills gap. How has this contradiction come about? And is there a solution?

One doesn't become skilled and employable without training and qualification. IT skills, however, need to be defined by employers in order for training providers and certification companies to meet that requirement. More worrying, therefore, is the question: are UK employers clearly defining the skills needed and are enough opportunities provided to IT staff to certify themselves to the standards required?

The UK market is suffering more than any other European country. A recent IT conference, Strategies 2002, highlighted that mature markets in the UK, Germany and Netherlands are hardest hit, with a 21% decrease in IT training in the UK alone.

For those beginning or seeking a career in IT, getting skilled quickly and effectively is vital to securing employment. For professionals hoping to specialise or be re-skilled, choosing the wrong qualifications could be detrimental. The speed at which technology develops demands an ever-evolving and skilled workforce and, despite troubled economic times, cutting IT training budgets is simply not an option in a market where only the fittest survive.

There are over 100 different UK IT certifications in the market. However, the records of these are scattered over numerous databases held by different training organisations and IT suppliers. An employer would find it unreasonably difficult to validate a prospective employee's certification, especially if that prospect has held a number of positions in different companies or countries over the years.

Global IT accreditations hold the key. The Computing Technology Industry Association was set up by industry players to provide supplier-neutral global certifications that guarantee IT professionals meet a particular standard of proficiency internationally. Industry players such as Microsoft, IBM, Cisco and Ericsson have adopted global certification programmes into their own training syllabuses. So why don't we hear more about it?

Employers still have to address a number of issues before we witness widespread adoption.

Research from the association and Gartner discovered that global employers perceived the greatest drawbacks to certifying staff as the cost of training and testing, time away from the office and fear of employee disloyalty after training. Some 40% of employers were concerned that sponsoring certification would encourage staff to move on to another job.

However, employers which have gone down the global certification route realised greater productivity, a higher level of service and better credibility and staff retention. Some 60% of these employees recognised productivity gains from certified staff. In truth, it is more cost effective to train and nurture existing staff than it is to recruit new staff.

I am not saying that the demise of our IT recruitment market and skills gap lies purely on the shoulders of UK employers. UK colleges and schools still have to find common ground between what is being taught and map that to what skills the industry needs. IT training organisations need to identify niche technologies to meet the growing needs of our industry professionals. Tax credits to aid the planning of investment in e-skills and training will encourage an atmosphere of continuous development.

Public recognition of the industry's global training certifications will allow IT qualifications to be properly benchmarked so there is greater certainty about the real value of certifications.

In the long term, we need to take all these steps to ensure a prosperous and healthy industry. But if UK industry does not recognise the importance of training and certification now, the situation for the IT industry in the UK will only worsen. Training and global certification is only one of many steps needed to keep the industry moving forward, but at least it is a step in the right direction.

Mathew Poyiadgi is regional director UK and Scandinavia at the Computing Technology Industry Association

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