Time for Certification?

by Dave Michels

In recessions and periods of high unemployment – it might be a good time to get some tech certs. Or not? Many telecom manufacturers restrict technical certifications. A model that needs to change.

IDC predicts North American businesses expect to hire another 180,000 networking professionals by 2011, they’ll face a shortfall of 65,000 workers, especially for specialized networking positions. In particular, says IDC, “organizations will face an increasing shortage of people within the areas of network security and specialized network skills such as IP telephony and wireless networking.”

IDC further specifically recommends its readers should obtain Cisco or Microsoft certifications in (among others) voice telephony.

DESPITE an economy in which IT training budgets are going down, IT certification has remained strong. Suzana Lopes, Director at Pearson VUE (a testing provider), said:

“We have seen no drop-off in demand or in numbers of candidates…It seems to be generally anticipated that, as the economy suffers, both IT professionals and those who use IT in their day-to-day work are placing increased emphasis on gaining meaningful qualifications, to gain a competitive edge in a tougher employment market.”

But the majority of voice equipment makers don’t open their training or certifications to the general public. This restriction is common with the traditional telecom vendors that originally adopted the practice as a means of protecting their channel.

Ten years ago, the PBX was a hardware solution. Unauthorized dealers also known as “trunkers” could find parts on the gray market and undercut the authorized dealers. All they needed was some basic knowledge of how the parts fit together. The manufacturers responded by allowing only dealer sponsored individuals to obtain factory training. This protection is mostly obsolete now that voice systems are software based. Changes today require software options or licenses constrained to authorized dealers with passwords and licensing servers.

Today the restriction actually hurts the dealers and manufacturers. A dealer must hire someone without certifications (generally these certs are non transferable either – another form of dealer protection), and spend thousands of dollars on certification courses (plus travel and salary) on unproven staff.

Conversely, many of the new generation of voice solution providers have the ability to hire staff pre-certified. The risk or cost of certification may have even been borne by the technician. The same is true for employers that frequently list various certifications as position requirements. Training and education are among the first things cut when times are tough. Additionally, they are a relatively low cost way for job seekers to strengthen their hire-ability. They carry so much weight, that even some universities include coursework designed to obtain vendor certifications as part of their curriculum.

Cisco, Microsoft, and Digium – three vendors that are experiencing growth in voice – require technical candidates to complete exams for certification. They don’t require formal classes, and use outside centers like Pearson Vue or Prometric for testing. This is a similar concept to becoming a lawyer – you must past the Bar Exam – law school is optional. It is a difficult transition for organizations that rely on training as a profit center. Aastra, Mitel, Toshiba, and NEC require factory classes and sponsorship by a dealer. Some don’t even have tests – the class is enough.

The restricted model really needs to change. It places the risk on the dealer and doesn’t necessarily even result with trained professionals. Nor does it allow individuals to become certified in a particular product on their own. If there is truly going to be a shortage of skilled network professionals, then it is in the industry’s best interest to figure out how to get training more readily available. It seems to be perfectly logical for most vendors to offer free traning on their websites – the only one I found doing so is ShoreTel.

Supply of technical capabilities can actually create demand. This is one reason why Google is recruiting universities (and subsequently 6 million students) to Google Apps for Email. That’s a lof of the next work-force generation that will be comfortable with this once obscure service. Microsoft and Apple also invest heavily in training the up and coming generation to be savvy with their products and services.

I noticed that some certifications for Avaya, Siemens, and Nortel are available from Pearson Vue and Prometric – but I am not familiar enough with them to know if they are the full product certs or more general designations. My expectation would be that most of their advanced training are limited to dealer sponsorship. Please post details in comments below if you know otherwise.

I’ve done a few posts on our general economy and the recession and believe education is of paramount importance to general success. It frustrates me to see quality training in innovative products limited to so few.