IT Management,Training

The Value of IT Certification28 Jan

IT employees require constant training and skill development opportunities.  It goes with the industry.  As a small business owner, if you have any hope of keeping IT employees around for any length of time, you need to understand this and come up with a strategy that fits the needs of both your business and your employees.

First and foremost, you may be struggling with the expense and value of training classes.  One of the big questions is always "Is certification worth it?"  This is a question at hiring ("This person has a ton of certifications, they must be good."), it’s a question when your employees want training ("Are they going to get this training and then leave?"), and it’s a question after the training when some employees may ask for a salary increase to recognize their new skills.

I’ve never put much stock in certifications myself.  But a couple weeks ago, I had an experience that may be altering my opinions on the subject.

Earlier this month, I attended a week long class on SQL Server 2005.  I’ve been using SQL Server for a while now and have gotten fairly proficient.  But there were many gaps in my knowledge and some things just weren’t fitting together completely.  So I decided to invest the time and money in the course. 

Now, this was a boot camp style course.  What this means is that the entire class is geared towards making sure you can pass an exam at the end of the week.  To do this, they work through the material of two 5 day courses in just 5 days.  I knew from prior experience that the typical 5 day course is just too slow paced for me.  So a boot camp seemed like a much more productive use of my time.

At the end of the course, I did end up passing the exam.  I now possess a MCTS – SQL Server 2005 certification.  Like I said, I’ve never placed much emphasis on certification.  But through the experience, I learned a number of things that have me thinking differently.

  1. The value of the certification depends entirely on the person holding it.  There were 4 people in my class.  Besides myself, there was a programmer and 2 system administrators.  One of the two SAs had absolutely no prior database experience.  All 4 of us passed the exam.  But guess whose certification is absolutely worthless?
  2. When looking at a person’s credentials, look for focus and depth rather than an endless list of certifications.  It would be very easy to go out and pass a bunch of tests unrelated to my focus areas.  But to do so would only paint me as a jack of all trades with no true expertise in any specific area. 
  3. Training for IT employees is truly a form of compensation.  If your employees get certified and bring new skills to the job, that’s great.  But you don’t have to increase their compensation just because of their increased potential.  When they successfully apply their new learning to solve your business problems, then reward them for that.  Alternatively, if the employee has been using the technology for a long time and the certification recognizes their expertise in that area, then an adjustment may be merited.
  4. You need to tailor your training plan to the individual’s learning style.  Some people do really well using self-paced learning at home.  Others do best in a classroom environment.  I shy away from eLearning because I have a hard time staying focused on the content when so many other things are going on.  I also know that the incremental cost of the boot camp style course is well worth it to me because I can handle the faster paced class.
  5. If a person has a high level certification, make sure they have the experience to back it up.  Entry level certifications simply prove your familiarity with the subject.  In many ways, it’s acceptable to have a basic certification without experience (i.e., you can’t get experience if you’re not certified, but you can’t get certified without experience).  But the higher level certifications should be looked at closely to make sure their experience matches their training.

I really enjoyed my training and I’ve already found ways to benefit my clients because of it.  I still don’t care about the certification.  But it’s a marketing tool and I’ll use it as such.  Hopefully, my experience will help you know how certification fits into the training and evaluation plan for your IT employees.

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