To train or not to train

When John Lambert wanted a position that challenged and improved on his broad knowledge of technology, finding an employer that encouraged and financially supported professional certification topped his list of priorities.

"It's absolutely essential," Lambert says. "And I would not want to be any place where it is not essential. I do not want a kick-back job." Lambert, who's worked in the network industry for about 10 years, most recently was chief technical officer at a dotcom, so staying on the bleeding edge of technology is a must-have element in his work environment.

For more than a month, Lambert has been working as a network engineer at In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit corporation chartered by the US Central Investigation Agency (CIA) to develop technology. Given all the certifications listed on his resume, the 42-year-old Lambert says before his current employer interviewed him, he assumed he was at least 60 years old. Lambert studied on his own to become certified as a Cisco Systems' Certified Network Associate, Microsoft Certified Database Administrator, Microsoft Certified Solution Developer and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer + Internet (MCSE+I). He is working to become a Cisco Certified Network Professional and an Oracle Certified Database Administrator.

Lambert's decision to further his IT education is self-motivated. He thrives on new technologies and has never received a raise for obtaining certification. However, having diverse training and several certifications boosts his credibility when debating technology decisions with management.

In some cases, former employers that reimbursed or paid outright for certification "almost did so grudgingly", Lambert says.

"You may not be able to keep them forever, but those people aren't the type that would stay forever anyway," Lambert says. "If an employer supports training, employees will be inclined to stay longer and they will be more productive while they are there."

Lambert's opinion is fairly common among network professionals, according to the Network World Salary Survey. The survey found that many high-tech workers value training, professional development, challenging work and access to new technologies over factors such as raises, salary and time off in lieu. Although the survey revealed no direct correlation between certification and salary, in some cases those with certification earn more. And if training is part of the overall benefits package, a company will have a leg up on recruitment and retention.

In fact, at one financial company it is the benefit package, which includes an annual training budget for employees, that keeps Sherry Callahan happy with her position there. In her roughly three years as senior network administrator at the financial services business, Callahan earned her A+, Certified Novell Engineer, Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) and MCSE+I designations. And although the company doesn't immediately compensate an employee for getting certified in terms of salary, promotion or bonuses, Callahan says the company proves its commitment to the staff.

"At the point of certification, that person has already reaped the benefit of having [the company] pay for the classes and exams," Callahan says. "In the case of an MCSE certification, the company has already invested many thousands of dollars in that individual."

While her company appreciates a knowledgeable staff, Callahan says employees must use what they've learned in order to be rewarded. "A certified person who has applied their new knowledge to their job and projects within the department would receive a larger raise than a certified person who did nothing other than maintain the status quo," Callahan says. "I would never promote someone simply because they were certified."

Moreover, providing the necessary certification and training to feed the network professional's appetite for knowledge can only benefit a company, Lambert says.

"People will get the training on their own anyway and be less happy with their employer," he says. "You want to get the most out of somebody's abilities when they are with you. Support the certification process, and your staff will stay with you longer."

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