Study: Bonus pay higher for certificate holders

IT workers with certifications have better retained their value during the recession than those without certifications, according to a study of more than 1,800 employers in North American and Europe.

The study by IT staffing research firm Foote Partners LLC in New Canaan, Conn., looked at the bonuses that workers with certificates received compared with those without certificates over the past five quarters.

According to the study, workers with certifications saw their bonuses remain steady throughout 2001 and the first quarter of 2002, said David Foote, president or Foote Partners. In contrast, workers without certification saw a decrease in their bonus packages, he said.

For average pay rates, bonuses for workers with certifications now hover around 8.3 percent of base pay, while bonuses for workers without certifications have fallen to 8.1 percent, down from a high of 10.2 percent in the third quarter of 2000. Because the rates for certification held while the rates for noncertified workers fell, Foote said he doesn't believe the trend is due to the recession.

Foote attributed the trend to companies feeling "they have been burned" by IT workers claiming to have experience and skills they don't have. He said a certification might not be perfect, but it does represent a foundation of knowledge an employee has.

A certificate is issued after a person has completed a course of study in a specific area. In most cases, the individual also must pass an exam.

Stoneham, Mass.-based IT staffing expert David Weldon said he isn't ready to give Foote's ideas a blanket endorsement. He said one of the reasons bonus rates for workers with skills but no certifications fell could be the result of the recession. With layoffs, there are more skilled workers in the job market, and companies don't have to pay the high bonuses they did years ago to get them.

Weldon said what really matters and what he would want to see is specific information on specific certifications. Too many vendors flood the market with useless certifications to promote their products, he said.

"A vanilla-pudding certification isn't going to do anything for your employer," Weldon said.

Robert D. Austin, a Harvard Business School assistant professor and an analyst at Arlington, Mass.-based Cutter Consortium, agreed that the kind of certification the worker holds determines whether an IT worker is more valuable to an employer.

Austin said deep technical certifications make sense but that he doubts the value of certificates in areas such as project management. Short-term security certificates, however, will be in high demand, he said.

"The world out there is worried about security, but they don't know a damned thing about it," Austin said. "People worried about security feel they are at sea, and a certification is something they can grab a hold of while they are being tossed about by the waves."

This is also a trend noticed by some placement firms. San Jose-based Hall Kinion & Associates Inc. reports that its clients are looking for workers with highly specialized certifications, said spokeswoman Laila Kaiser.

"Of greatest interest has been certifications from the enterprise software vendors -- Siebel's Certified Consultant, Oracle's Certified Professional, for example. Certification from the enterprise firms is the only guarantor of both currency and expertise with the relevant package," Kaiser said.

Austin agreed with Foote regarding the aura that surrounds certifications. Foote said certifications often convey that the person holding it is dedicated to improving his education and his specialty.

"Certifications represent a certain amount of risk reduction," Austin said. While it isn't a guarantee of competence, the certification at least signals that a person has a base set of skills, he said.

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