IT certifications grow in pay, reversing a three-year downward trend

IT certifications are still earning substantially less than non-certified tech skills on average - but the gap may be closing


The scarcity principle in economic theory tells us that gains and losses in cash pay premiums for IT skills, normally paid to lucky tech professionals as a bonus outside of their base salary, reflect a widening or narrowing, respectively, in the gap between their supply and demand. Volatility has traditionally been high for this unique form of compensation as ‘hot’ in-demand tech skills and certifications come and go, and as supply rises and falls. This has been a thorn in the side of any employer trying to manage its tech workforce and navigating the choppy waters of hiring and retaining talent.

History has also shown that the story is very different depending on whether it’s certified or noncertified skills according to the IT Skills and Certifications Pay IndexTM (ITSCPI) which has been measuring and reporting cash pay premium data pay for 555 certified and 630 non-certified tech skills every three months since 2000 at 3,866 U.S. and Canadian employers. For one thing, there is a wide disparity in pay between the two, with noncertified skills currently earning the equivalent of 9.4 percent of base salary on average while IT certifications are averaging just 6.6 percent.

Moreover, noncertified IT skills have been growing in value nearly every quarter since 2009 while certification pay has been on a continuous downward trajectory in the past three years. But in the most recent calendar quarter reported in the ITSCPI, from July to September, certifications gained market value while noncertified skills dipped slightly.

Is this a trend that will stick? Here’s some evidence to consider: in my last column I listed twenty-one IT certifications in the second quarter of 2021 that were earning well above average premiums and still growing in value, almost all of them connected to cybersecurity, big data analytics, data science, or robotics/automation. These are hot strategic business imperatives with ample budgets for skills acquisition that will not be cooling off in the foreseeable future. Consider also that in our new 3Q data, sixty certifications gained in market value from the prior quarter and they are fairly well distributed among the eight technology subject areas we use to report certifications. In fact, six certifications repeated on our continuously updated list of high-paying IT certifications still growing in market value. Even networking certifications have showed some strength in 2021, likely the result of networks under new pressures to support the pandemic-driven movement of workers out of the office to remote workspaces.

IT certifications leading the new resurgence

The following IT certifications meet two prerequisites:

  • They recorded substantial gains in cash market value in the six months ending October 1, 2021.
  • They earned workers cash pay premiums well above the average of all 555 certifications reported in our IT Skills and Certifications Pay IndexTM.

No IT certification below is earning less than the equivalent of 9 percent of base salary—significant considering the average for all certifications reported is 6.6 percent of base—and every certification listed below grew between 9.5 percent and 39 percent in cash market value in the six months ending October 1, 2021. In alphabetical order they are:

- Certified Cloud Security Professional

- Certified Scrum Product Owner®

- Certified Scrum Professional®

- Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional

- Cisco Certified Architect

- Cisco Certified Network Professional – Security    

- EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker

- GIAC Certified Forensics Examiner

- Information Systems Security Engineering Professional

- Okta Certified Administrator 

- Okta Certified Professional   

- Pegasystems Certified Data Scientist

- Pegasystems Certified Robotics System Architect 

- Pegasystems Certified Senior Systems Architect              

- SAS Certified Advanced Analytics Professional Using SAS 9              

- SAS Certified Big Data Professional Using SAS 9 

- TOGAF 9 Certified

Below is the same list with brief descriptions in descending ranked order by market value increase first and second, by cash pay premium (including ties).

  1. Okta Certified Professional 

Market Value Increase: 39 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 10 percent of base salary equivalent

Okta Certified Professionals possess knowledge about secure identity management and mobility concepts. They have hands-on experience completing day-to-day operational tasks to support users of the Okta service. Professionals have familiarity with Okta technology and processes related to simple directory integration, single-sign on federation, and application provisioning aspects of User Life Cycle Management.

At minimum, candidates for the Okta Certified Professional certification must meet the following requirements 1+ year experience in a technical role; working in security and/or identity management; 3 - 6 months of on-the-job experience working with the Okta service; have successfully completed Okta Essentials or equivalent training. While roles within different organisation may vary, candidates for the Okta Certified Professional certification are generally involved in defining secure identity strategies or assisting with daily operation and support of Okta instances. Candidates for certification may be Identity Leaders, Project Managers, Business App Owners, or Help Desk Administrators.

  1. Cisco Certified Network Professional – Security (CCNP Security)  

Market Value Increase: 33.3 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 12 percent of base salary equivalent

The Cisco Certified Network Professional cluster of certifications takes aim at platforms and products from a leading networking equipment vendor found at most communications and internet service providers, enterprises and businesses of all sizes, including government, research, and academia. The CCNP is Cisco’s most important midrange credential across a wide variety of specialties: Cloud, Collaboration, Data Center, Routing and Switching, Security, Service Provider, and Wireless.

The Cisco Certified Network Professional – Security credential is aligned specifically to a handful of roles including network engineers and administrators, systems engineers and administrators, and network support technicians responsible for a broad range of security responsibilities in routers, switches, networking devices and appliances, as well as choosing, deploying, supporting and troubleshooting Firewalls, VPNS, and IDS/IPS solutions for their networking environments.

To earn the CCNP Security you must pass two exams. A core exam tests a candidate's knowledge of implementing and operating core infrastructure security technologies including network security, cloud security, content security, endpoint protection and detection, secure network access, visibility and enforcements. A second exam targets emerging and industry-specific topics so a candidate can customise their certification to a technical area of focus. There are six concentration exams to choose from: Securing Networks with Cisco Firepower; Implementing and Configuring Cisco Identity Services Engine; Securing Email with Cisco Email Security Appliance; Securing the Web with Cisco Web Security Appliance; Implementing Secure Solutions with Virtual Private Networks; Automating and Programming Cisco Security Solutions.

  1. Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP)

Market Value Increase: 30 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium:  13 percent of base salary equivalent

Like other certifications from the Information Security Consortium (ISC2), the Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional is a vendor-neutral credential relevant to many kinds of programming and development projects. Aimed at software developers, engineers, architects, QA and penetration testers, security specialists, and the like, the CSSLP recognises competency in securing applications throughout the software development lifecycle. There is one required exam that covers all phases of this lifecycle, including secure software concepts, requirements, design, implementation and coding, and testing. Candidates should also be up to speed on the eight CSSLP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) domains which include software concepts, requirements, design, implementation/programming, testing, lifecycle management, deployment, operations and maintenance, along with supply chain and software acquisition. Prerequisites include at least four years’ full-time work-related experience in the software development lifecycle (in at least one of the eight CSSLP domains) or three years' experience plus a bachelor's degree or equivalent in an IT-related field such as computer science or information technology.

  1. SAS Certified Big Data Professional Using SAS 9 

Market Value Increase: 28.6 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2021)   

Average Pay Premium: 9.5 percent of base salary equivalent

Professionals whose workdays (or career aspirations) revolve more around managing data and platforms rather than deep statistics, analysis and modelling will gravitate to data management credentials like the SAS Certified Big Data Professional Using SAS 9. This credential is designed for professionals who conduct statistical analyses using SAS and open source data-management tools. It requires passing two separate exams: (1) Big Data Preparation, Statistics and Visual Exploration, and (2) SAS Big Data Programming and Loading. Successful candidates will be able to:

– Recognise and overcome big data challenges.

– Implement critical SAS programming techniques.

– Access, transform and manipulate data.

– Improve data quality for reporting and analytics.

– Apply fundamental statistical techniques.

– Work with SAS, Hadoop and Hive.

– Explore and visualize data.

  1. Pegasystems Certified Robotics System Architect

Market Value Increase: 25 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 10 percent of base salary equivalent

Pegasystems develops software for customer relationship management (CRM), digital process automation, and business process management (BPM). The Pegasystems Professional Certification Program attests that individuals have the appropriate skills and body of knowledge to be a primary contributor for a successful Pega implementation and roll-out.

The Pegasystems Certified Robotics System Architect credential is for system architects and software developers who are looking to enhance their skills in robotic automation and workforce intelligence. They have the basic functionality, process flow, terminology, and core building blocks of Pega Robot Studio and know how to integrate robotic automations with Windows and web applications and how to use debugging tools to test solutions.

  1. [Tie] SAS Certified Advanced Analytics Professional Using SAS 9 

EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

Market Value Increase: 22.2 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 11 percent of base salary equivalent

SAS Advanced Analytics credentials are designed for SAS professionals who gather, manipulate, and analyse big data using SAS tools, run reports and make business recommendations based on complex models. The SAS Certified Advanced Analytics Professional Using SAS 9 certification uses predictive modelling and statistical analysis methods and techniques to analyse big data sets. Candidates must pass three exams:

  • Predictive Monitoring Using SAS Enterprise Miner 7, 13 or 14
  • Advanced Predictive Modelling
  • Text Analytics, Time Series, Experimentation and Optimisation

The Certified Ethical Hacker is an intermediate-level credential offered by the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council). It's a must-have for IT professionals pursuing careers in ethical hacking, and certifies their competence in the five phases of ethical hacking: reconnaissance, enumeration, gaining access, maintaining access and covering tracks. CEH credential holders possess skills and knowledge on hacking practices in areas such as footprinting and reconnaissance, scanning networks, enumeration, system hacking, Trojans, worms and viruses, sniffers, denial-of-service attacks, social engineering, session hijacking, hacking web servers, wireless networks and web applications, SQL injection, cryptography, penetration testing, evading IDS, firewalls, and honeypots. The latest evolution of the CEH exam provides a greater focus on emerging attack vectors along with IoT hacking and vulnerability analysis.

  1. [Tie] GIAC Certified Forensics Examiner (GCFE)

Okta Certified Administrator 

Pegasystems Certified Data Scientist (PCDS)

Pegasystems Certified Senior Systems Architect (PCSSA)             

Market Value Increase: 12.5 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 9 percent of base salary equivalent

The GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner certification from SANS Institute validates a practitioner's knowledge of computer forensic analysis, with an emphasis on core skills required to collect and analyse data from Windows computer systems. GCFE certification holders have the knowledge, skills, and ability to conduct typical incident investigations including e-discovery, forensic analysis and reporting, evidence acquisition, browser forensics and tracing user and application activities on Windows systems.

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