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IT certification and how it can make a difference

21 March 2011

This week, I've invited Don Carlson (pictured below), EMEA education director at Autodesk to explain the benefits of 'IT certification' and how it can help those charged with recruiting and retaining gifted IT practitioners for roles in computer-aided design and engineering. According to Mr Carlson, the benefits of IT certification are all too rarely discussed and the positive impact that businesses achieve is less well known. IT certification schemes allow employees to demonstrate their skills and achievements, securing an advantage over their peers in today’s competitive jobs market.

One of the key benefits - and one that we have cause to celebrate, says Mr Carlson - is the degree to which certification is able to enhance the employer recruitment process. Businesses often find it a challenge to recruit successfully for technical positions. In this context, certification programmes can play a key role in helping to develop a pool of skilled workers who have the potential to be recruited for these roles. In the current downturn, there may be a surplus of job-seekers but in many sectors of the economy there remains a shortage of skilled labour. Over to Mr Carlson...

Creating a skilled workforce with the baseline competencies for entry-level jobs in the IT sector benefits employers as they look to fill vacancies. And these workers are not necessarily fresh out of university or college. They could also be people with industry experience who have decided to take the opportunity to ‘retool’ and build their technical capabilities. When it comes to the recruitment process itself, certification delivers a range of additional benefits. One of the most important is that it helps to improve the decision-making process.

Hiring managers will typically not be as technically skilled as the candidates for the roles they are looking to fill.  It is therefore often difficult for them to determine the true capabilities of potential recruits. IT certification programmes can be an invaluable aid for any hiring manager, whether they are recruiting locally or internationally. It’s a way of accessing a consistent, objective global measurement of an employee’s level of technical skills and consequently helping to inform the recruitment decision. And by making better hiring decisions, businesses are helping to optimise their investment in their most valuable resource – their employees.

Productivity and professional development
The benefits that IT certification schemes potentially provide extend far beyond the recruitment process. The best of these programmes provide measurable return on investment. Assessment tests can be used to identify common areas of weakness amongst employees which will need to be resolved by the provision of appropriate training modules. The outcome can then be measured through certification exams.

Enabling staff to enrol on these programmes helps employers validate the skills and knowledge of their people, but also to accelerate their professional development and improve their productivity. My company's Professional-level Certification, for example, offers several key differentiators in this respect; in particular, the fact that it includes performance-based testing.

Employees are tested on their ability to perform tasks rather than simply answering questions about how they might accomplish them. Performance-based testing is widely accepted as a better way of ensuring that staff have the skills required for a particular application. One of the reasons for this is that it ensures staff are tested on the latest versions of software.

Experienced users often feel that certification is not for them because they are already 'experts'. In fact, they have often learned on older software versions and have not fully explored the enhanced functionality available in the latest releases.

In this context, certification raises the awareness of experienced users that there are aspects of the technology that they could learn about that might further improve their performance; it then gives them a framework to learn and validate that they have got those skills. As a result, the employer benefits from a more productive and competent workforce. Ultimately, this approach helps companies get the most out of their software investment, thus strengthening their competitiveness and driving business advantage.

Positive prospects
The positive results that businesses are seeing from their involvement with IT certification schemes gives the lie to the often repeated myth that if you skill your employees too highly then they are either disposed to demand extra money or leave your employment altogether. The evidence on the ground suggests the contrary. Employers that send their employees on certification programmes usually achieve higher levels of staff retention. Equally, employees are typically more engaged and motivated because they feel their employer cares about them and is prepared to invest in their future professional development.

Ultimately, employers who appreciate the importance of building employee engagement by investing in training and in certification will reap a broad range of rewards. The approach will also help reduce staff turnover and align employees with the organisation’s strategic goals, helping to support the success, both of the individual and the broader business.

I am grateful to Mr Carlson for contributing this article. If you would like to learn more about Autodesk’s training and IT certification services, click here.

Les Hunt

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