Getting certified--who foots the bill?: Page 2

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"Some companies' motives for getting IT staff certified have nothing to do with retaining staff in a red-hot job market. Companies aren't saying, "I want to keep you, so I'll certify you." They do it because they want their equipment to stay up. "
Brown, now a help-desk analyst for a Cleveland, Ohio-based international law firm, received a Microsoft Office 97 MOUS master's certificate, which makes her an expert in the technology. She is currently studying to become Office 2000 certified and says she'll pay for the test herself, although her current employer is considering reimbursing her for the cost of the exam.

If Brown decides to go further and get certifications in e-business, her company would pay "if it [were] directly related to my position or would benefit the company. They are pretty good about that,'' she says.

Motivations galore

Indeed, some companies have their own motives for getting IT staff certified, which have nothing to do with retaining staff in a red-hot job market. "Companies aren't saying 'I want to keep you, so I'll certify you,'" says Cushing Anderson, program manager, learning services research, at International Data Corp. (IDC), in Framingham, Mass. "More often--80% of the time--they do it because they want their equipment to stay up. They'll never train someone simply to keep them. If it's not an area that's beneficial to them, they don't care."

IDC studies on certification found that employers that pay to have their staff certified experience shorter server downtimes and greater productivity in help-desk functions, according to Anderson. "So essentially there are financial reasons why companies want people to have this."

At CompUSA, the impetus for paying for employee certifications was better customer service. "They wanted us to get as much certification as possible [since we were instructors]," explains Brown. "CompUSA was really up on getting the instructors trained to better serve [its] customers. They paid for every test we passed."

Although her job as a CompUSA instructor required her to take two MOUS exams, Brown decided to go for all six that were offered for master's certification, which cost CompUSA about $2,100, she says. CompUSA didn't require a commitment from Brown after paying for her certification, but she notes that instructors who failed a test had to pay out of pocket to retake it.

While some companies may require a time commitment once they have paid for their people to get certified, even when they don't, employees generally tend to stick around. "There's a misperception that once you train people, they're more likely to move on and find a better job," IDC's Anderson says. "We're not finding that."

Others agree. "If an employer is prepared to invest in IT training, it's rewarded in greater productivity and loyalty," notes Bean, of Prometric. Paying for certification is being used as a perk to attract people to take jobs and as an incentive to keep them, he adds. "Because of how hot the marketplace is...instead of putting a handcuff on, employers roll in learning as part of an overall benefits package to IT professionals,'' he says.

Personal benefits

Stacy Brown believes certifications indicate a person is staying current with technology, since it changes so rapidly. "My company is thinking of upgrading to the [Windows] 2000 package, and I'm the one people turn to with questions, so I think it's valuable."

In fact, she's downright bullish on IT certification and believes it has given her job security. "If I ever decided to leave this position, having that tangible certification immediately voids all the questions in the interview. It is known that I have the skills," she says.

For Wendy Neubert, a freelance consultant in Framingham, Mass., Windows NT 4-Administering certification training gave her a much better understanding of technical support, maintenance and managerial control of systems issues, and how best to support users, she says. Not to mention a broader knowledge of Windows NT.

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