Are you confused about the value of IT certifications? Which certifications will pay the most? Do you need them at all to prove your skill set – and make your next IT career move?
This topic causes plenty of debate among IT job hunters and hiring managers alike. According to technology workforce research analyst firm Foote Partners, the additional pay awarded for certified and non-certified IT skills has been on diverging paths for nearly fifteen years. Employers have been paying significantly higher cash premiums for non-certified capabilities than certified ones, and certifications overall have been declining in value for nearly three years, Foote's research shows.
Some of that devaluation can be attributed to an increasing number of IT professionals getting certified in high-demand skills. “When the supply of something goes up and demand remains constant, value goes down,” explains David Foote, cofounder and CEO of Foote Partners, which looks at eight different categories of certifications. “We’ve been talking to people getting more certification, so some of that has been happening.”
What certification should you get in 2021?
However, there are a number of certifications that have been bucking that trend over time.
Security and adjacent certifications dominate that list, but areas like networking, project management, and agile development are also seeing bumps in pay for certification. “It’s an incredibly competitive marketplace for the right talent,” says Foote. “Companies are still fighting for – and losing – people. The pandemic has not changed that.”
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15 IT certifications growing in demand and value in 2021
The following certifications, specifically, are predicted to grow in market value in 2021.
Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC). ISACA’s CRISC certification indicates expertise in identifying and managing enterprise IT risk and implementing and maintaining information systems controls. “Risk management is one of the skills that we have identified as high-paying and still going up in value among non-certified skills as well,” Foote points out. Two years ago, there were barely 18,000 professionals with a CRISC certification; that’s ballooned to 30,000 and rising.
Another related certification rising in value, according to the Foote research, is ISACA’s Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), which certifies expertise in IT auditing, control, and security. “ISACA has been aggressively and actively marketing their skills certifications, and they have seen nearly 10 percent growth in the certifications they’ve been handing out,” Foote says. “The idea is that this is a safe area to point a career.”
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Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). There’s no shortage of agile scrum certifications available, but the most valuable from a business point of view is the product owner. “It’s the most senior scrum certification and it’s a very challenging role,” Foote says. “It requires that they have accountability for business decisions, such as which features to include and the priority of those features – and those decisions can’t be made in a vacuum.” And it’s just started to show up as a certification increasing in value over the last six to nine months.
Scrum product owners are skilled in stakeholder communication and collaboration, conflict management, creative thinking, and the ability to influence. “It’s very much a job of personality,” says Foote. “While the scrum master helps the team learn and implement scrum, the product owner creates the vision.”
IT leaders will look for people with this certification to master the whole product lifecycle, from requirements gathering and feature prioritization to development, review, and testing, to product acceptance and customer satisfaction.
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Citrix Certified Expert – Networking (CCE-N). The networking landscape is growing more complex due to the need to support more remote work, increased adoption of cloud infrastructure, and greater demands for flexible hybrid environments – all while maintaining performance and managing security. That led to the creation of this expert-level certification in 2018. It introduces systems administrators to real-world scenarios and asks them to create complex solutions that meet advanced requirements in alignment with business drivers and within business constraints.
“If you live in the Citrix world and you have the other Citrix skills, this is the one you want to get,” says Foote. “It has a lot of juice into it and systems admins gain a lot of experience in authentication, authorization, auditing, endpoint analysis, firewalls, zero-day attack protection, and more.
“This is a pandemic play,” Foote adds, “because threat levels are rising.”
In the Cisco realm, additional pay is increasing for Cisco Certified Network Associate and Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate certifications. “More and more companies are moving large blocks of their workforces to remote,” says Foote. “And if you look at the feeder populations for security certifications, they tend to be very much networking people. Companies are pumping money into networking again for obvious reasons – and securing them, too.”
GIAC Certified Penetration Tester (GPEN). While security certifications as a whole tend to continue to grow in value, the increase in demand for penetration testers in particular is being driven by compliance, Foote says. GPEN pros work as security personnel responsible for assessing networks and systems to find and remediate vulnerabilities in some way, whether that’s as pen testers, auditors, forensic specialists, red or blue team members, ethical hackers, or cyber defense team members.
Related certifications from the same organization also growing in value are GIAC Certified Forensics Analyst (GCFA), GIAC Certified Incident Handler, and GIAC Certified Intrusion Analyst (GCIA) certifications.
PMI Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). It’s no surprise that this certification from the Project Management Institute continues to be hot. “Even before the pandemic, there was a great demand for project managers skilled at building things with dispersed workgroups and working with a variety of constituents and vendors,” says Foote. “And you can’t get to the more senior certifications without getting this associate-level certification first.”
Linux Professional Institute Certifications (LPIC-Level 2 and LPIC-Level 3) and Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator (RHCSA). Both of these certification programs are Linux -related, notes Foote, and these core system administration skills are growing in importance. LPIC-Level 2 and Level 3 are part of a multi-level professional certification program. In addition, adds Foote, Red Hat’s RHCSA certification has gone up in value since Red Hat became part of IBM.
Six Sigma Master Black Belt. Don’t count Six Sigma out. While a number of process methodologies have emerged since its introduction in the mid-1980s, “Six Sigma is as important as it ever was,” says Foote. “It’s been around a long time and is popular in a number of industries.” And the Master Black Belt certification continues to demand a growing pay premium.
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