Investing in skills for growth

Filling the skills gap is a difficult task for organisations in the Middle East, but is it worthwhile for IT professionals to keep up certifications, or are soft skills and experience more important than passing exams?

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Investing in skills for growth IT certifications might prove a person’s competency in a specific field, but are they the best investment to build a career in the industry and maximize earnings potential?
By  Keri Allan Published  November 14, 2012

Filling the skills gap is a difficult task for organisations in the Middle East, but is it worthwhile for IT professionals to keep up certifications, or are soft skills and experience more important than passing exams?

Technology is deeply embedded in almost every business and industry and therefore the people who run these applications, networks and systems are critical to keeping any company running, and their skills are at a premium.

CompTIA, the non-profit trade association that represents the interests of IT professionals and companies, conducted a global survey on IT skills earlier this year, which found that eight out of ten companies rate technology as important or very important to their organisation’s success. The top five priorities highlighted were cyber security, data storage and backup, updating aging computers and software, network infrastructure and disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

“Each of these priorities – and dozens of others – will require a stockpile of IT workers,” highlights Mark Plunkett, director Emerging Markets, Europe - Middle East, CompTIA. “Businesses are looking for, and willing to pay for technology workers with these skill sets and others that help make the company more competitive and productive.”

IT by its very nature advances at a great pace and hence the need for businesses to ensure that their employees are up to date with the relevant skills is vital. Businesses require a broad range of skills from their personnel depending upon the nature of the business, the technology that has been deployed, and the role being performed.

“Being able to use everyday business tools is a given, but having expertise in areas such as IT security, infrastructure management, data protection and availability and application deployment are very important these days. In addition, a focus on best practices and maximum return on IT investments is another skill that is at the top of the business agenda,” says Jamil Ezzo, director general of ICDL GCC Foundation.
“This year the focus is more on security and compliance,” notes Mohamed Sadawy, service delivery team leader at Dana Gas.

Technology is very fluid and this is reflected in the skill sets that are needed to keep apace.

“New technologies require training and certification based on the ever-changing world of standards and best practices. Our technologies are also evolving and new versions dictate new updates to certifications in order to maintain current skill and knowledge levels,” notes Shaheen Haque, territory manager Middle East and Turkey at Interactive Intelligence.

The majority of employers depend on certifications to make hiring decisions - according to a past CompTIA research report 64% of IT hiring managers rate certifications as having high or extremely high value in validating the skills and expertise of job candidates.

“In addition, eight in ten HR professionals believe certifications will grow in usefulness and importance over the next two years,” Plunkett notes. “Why are employers relying on certifications when hiring IT pros? Certified IT workers have a greater ability to understand new or complex technologies, are more productive and bring more insightful problem solving to the workplace.”

To highlight this, “most IT certifications come in with a premium skills pay of 8 to 13% of base salary,” notes Ezzo.

So what are the most valuable certifications currently? Of course this depends on the role. Many trainers have seen a major need for vendor-specific certification especially for mid- or senior-level roles, but for managers or more senior roles they have seen more demand for vendor-neutral certification.

Clearly however, those with a proven track record and that are widely accepted continue to be most valued. Vendor neutral certifications such as ICDL and BICSI have a level of kudos, and vendor-specific credentials from companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, IBM and VMware are among the most sought after.

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