Getting certified--who foots the bill?

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Emerging and tried-and-true certifications

Emerging certification areas:

Linux (Linux Administration, Linux Network Administration, Linux Enterprise Administration)

E-biz in general, including Inet+ CIW (Certified Internet Webmaster)

Network security

Project management

Tried-and-true money makers:
Some more established programs that still produce sought-after graduates...

Microsoft Corp.: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)

Cisco Systems Inc.: CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), CCDA (Cisco Certified Design Associate), CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional), and CCDP (Cisco Certified Design Professional)

Novell Inc.: CNA (Certified Novell Administrator) and CNE (Certified Novell Engineer)

Source: International Data Corp., Prometric, and Winter Wyman & Co.

Ron Anthony is a career test taker. And he's made a career of training people to take tests. For IT certification, that is. So Anthony--who has spent almost $3,000 out of pocket for some 30 exams--is a firm believer in doing what it takes to get certified. As he sees it, it's a solid means to an end. "I wanted to move up to bring about a different range of financial security," says Anthony, who used to work as an auto body repair technician prior to moving into IT. Now, he has his own company, The ANC Group in Arlington, Texas, which provides boot camp IT training.

But the price tag for certification doesn't end there. In preparation for the various tests, Anthony has also spent about $40,000 on equipment, including routers and switches, to teach himself the ins and outs of networking. "Some people are happy when they make $80,000, but if I wanted to break the $100,000 range, I figured I had to have my own decent lab or have access to one, so I built my own [at home]," he says.

How did Anthony pay for it? "I just kept saving money. Other people bought TVs; I bought routers,'' he says.

You may not have to do without the TV, though. Anthony's situation is unusual. Industry observers say it's becoming more prevalent for employers to pay either the whole cost of certification or contribute something.

Martin Bean, president of Baltimore, Md.-based Prometric Inc., a major provider of IT certification exams, says his firm often sees employers funding 85% of training for certification. The employee pays the remainder: 13% is out-of-pocket, and 2% is from an outside source such as a vendor or a bank loan. And don't rule out mom and dad.

Covering the cost

More often than not, observers say companies will foot the bill for IT certification because it's good for their business. It also makes employees more valuable and productive. "Many companies are doing that these days, especially given the fact that good people are hard to find, and it's in their best interest to keep their people happy,'' says Ian Ide, the Boston-based manager of the technology division at Winter, Wyman & Co., a recruitment firm specializing in technology-related positions in Waltham, Mass.

On the flip side, vendor-funded certification has arisen from the push to get specialized technologies brought into companies. As such, the vendor is willing to assume the cost of training people who will then be able to go back and troubleshoot issues internally, Bean says. "It's absolutely in my best interest [as a vendor] for you to have the best people on board so you can solve your own problems and maximize your return on investment rather than call me, the vendor,'' says Bean.

There are also a number of loan programs available from vendors and training companies. For instance, Prometric, which offers courses on behalf of over 60 vendors at 2,900 testing centers worldwide, also offers its own finance program to pay for certification.

How to finance certification training

Here is a sampling of programs available: Key Bank's CareerLoan for IT education
The Key CareerLoan program is designed specifically to finance the requirements of an IT education. You can also apply for a loan online.

Novell Inc.'s CareerBuilder Loan education
The networking vendor offers its own loan program and an online application.