17 IT certifications that are bucking an overall downward trend in pay growth

Cash pay premiums for tech certs have had a rough time overall since 2017 but here are some good choices if you’re looking to advance your compensation.

Hand shows the sign of five stars and a ribbon with a tick. Concept of qualification.

My recent article on pay trends for noncertified IT skills revealed more than thirty skills that are earning lucky tech workers cash pay premiums that are well above the average of all 661 skills reported in Foote Partners’ IT Skills and Certifications Pay IndexTM (ITSCPI)  and, most importantly, still growing in market value. The remaining skills of the total of 1,245 skills reported in the most recent quarterly update (data collected from 4,010 employers through July 1, 2022) require attaining a formal certification to qualify for this extra pay.

But there is another important difference between certified and noncertified skills: while cash pay premiums for noncertified skills, usually paid in addition to salary, have on average been on a fairly steady climb for the last thirteen years, those for tech certifications have been on a downward trajectory for much of the past seven years. Also, noncertified skills are currently earning an average equivalent of nearly 10% of salary while the cash pay premium for IT certifications is a much lower 6.6% on average.

It’s not that certifications are not highly treasured by employers; many are, especially those in in areas such as security, architecture, project management, and processes. But the law of scarcity in economic theory tells us that losses and gains in cash pay premiums reflects a widening or narrowing, respectively, in the gap between their supply and demand. According to our long-running IT Skills and Certifications Volatility Index, market volatility has traditionally been high for IT certifications with supply often rising faster than demand, which depresses their market value.  

Why? A big reason is that the vast majority of certifications have been created by infrastructure technology vendors solely to ensure that organisations who purchase their technology products are trained in how to use them. For this, workers receive a certification. The bar can be set quite low for attaining many certifications: sometimes just a multiple-choice test where a score of 70% correct answers (and even lower) is sufficient to pass. More advanced certifications may add a lab requirement for candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in real time. But even labs can be constructed for easy passing scores. In general, the incentives for certification vendors to fail a candidate can be quite low.     

Buy another factor driving excess supply compared to demand is the popularity of a certification for IT professionals choosing to redirect their careers into other areas of specialisation. For example, systems administrators have been hit hard by outsourcing and the popularity of cloud computing which has eliminated a lot of these positions at employers. With fewer opportunities for career advancement, many sys admins have sought full-time jobs in info/cybersecurity and earned security certifications to add new skills, knowledge and capabilities important to performing in this new role.

All of these factors have driven down the average pay premiums for the 121 security certifications tracked in the ITSCPI by nearly 9.4% in the last two years.

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