Joining the Digital Ranks: Worldwide Computer Certification

Sean North, president of North Notes, LLC, earlier in his career worked for five years on a computer help desk, supporting employees who didn’t have proper computer training and didn’t know a PC from a portal.

“It does seem like one needs to be certified in IT just to be able to use a PC or a laptop these days,” North told TechNewsWorld.

That idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. It used to be that only high-end computer developers and programmers sought accreditation on tools developed by Microsoft, Sun or Novell. Now, the dispossessed of computing — trying to join the digital literati — are seeking out certification to prove that they too can compute.

The European Computer Driving License Foundation (ECDLF), for example, recently launched the International Computer Driving License (ICDL) project because so many people, in so many different walks of life, had no real training on the PC and, consequently, didn’t know what they were doing on the desktop or online.

Massive Skills Gap

Now that computing is so integral to work and even home life — who doesn’t shop on the Internet these days, or at least try to? — leaders in the computer field have recognized that there is a massive skills gap in computing.

A recent study by Cap Gemini Ernst & Young outlines the problem starkly: Workers spend nearly 136 hours per year, or three hours per week, solving computer-related problems. More than 70 percent of that time is lost due to lack of basic knowledge about computing, the report said.

Thus far, more than three million people in 100 countries have taken the training offered — online — by the ECDLF and its affiliates. Students even included the CEO of Renault France, who then made his entire executive staff take the basic computing skills training course, said Maureen O’Connell, a spokesperson for the ICDL program.

“The program came to the U.S. last year and is quickly gaining speed,” she said. “Philadelphia is the first U.S. city to adopt a computer driving license through a grassroots effort, the mayor’s office, and with the funding of IBM.”

Others Join the Trend

Other companies are joining the basic computer skills training wave, making this something of a global trend.

Certiport is the exclusive administrator of the Microsoft Office specialist certification and the Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC3), both of which are general computing and Internet certifications analogous in the United States to Europe’s ICDL, Certiport spokesperson Brian Sibley told TechNewsWorld.

In the past, most companies simply provided their new hires with a notebook computer and a manual and sent them on their way to work. “Clients were issued laptops and got some basic training, but nothing in the way that they would really need to learn,” said North.

With the economic recovery under way, employers are more demanding of new hires than ever before, and certification could help assure the boss that new employees won’t be a productivity drain.

For workers who are supposed to be IT specialists already, the certification trend has raised expectations across the board. When new technologies are introduced, they are expected to obtain certification faster than before, Sarah E. Talbot, a spokesperson for IBM, told TechNewsWorld.

Low-End Jobs Looming?

IBM earlier this year launched two new certification programs for database administrators (DBAs) who needed to update their skills for IBM’s DB2 Universal Database. The new exams are designed to help DBAs become certified more quickly and at half the cost of earlier certifications, said Talbot.

Although tech hiring has been squeezed in some skill-sets, particularly on the high end, the U.S. Department of Labor reckons that more than 26,000 database positions that do not require high-end skill-sets will open up during the next three years.

Many database administrators organize, structure and retrieve key information without designing new, proprietary systems or crunching code. As a result, it often makes better sense for those seeking work in this industry to achieve certification rather than an advanced degree in computer science.

As demand for DBAs has grown, IBM’s DB2 certification has kept pace, growing by 240 percent last year, according to Big Blue.

Computer security also is becoming less specialized — and certifications are cropping up everywhere. In the past, those charged with devising network security systems had advanced degrees in physics or computer science and specialized in predicting the probability of specific kinds of attacks. Now, however, many people interested in careers in security are seeking certification rather than degrees.

Not for Everyone

However, despite the widespread trend, some say the credentialing and certification movement is actually counterproductive — and is closer to a mania than a core requirement for most companies. “As an employer, seeing all sorts of IT certifications on a resume is a negative component to me,” Daniel Baker, vice president of Superconnect, a Houston-based software company, told TechNewsWorld.

“My experience has been that people with all sorts of weird qualifications — according to Microsoft or Cisco or whomever — are generally less qualified than people with valid experience and personal drive to learn it on their own.” Some computing skills are so basic today, he said, that getting a certification in them is silly.

“In some cases, it would be like if someone put on their resume that they were familiar with card key systems and wouldn’t have a problem getting into the building,” Baker said. “Or that they’ve used Cisco IP phones and would have no problem organizing a conference call.”

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