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

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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

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