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Have certifications lost their luster?

Certifications may look good on a resume, but real hands-on experience is what will get you that pay raise, according to a new report.

That certification you're working on may not be worth what you think it is. New research suggests employers are less impressed with a long list of certs than they are with real hands-on experience.

According to new research released last week by New Canaan, Conn.-based IT research consultancy firm Foote Partners, pay for non-certified skilled professionals grew almost five times as much as certified counterparts in the first three months of 2005. Pay for non-certified skilled IT pros grew 2.8% from January through March, while certified workers saw a 0.6% increase during that same time period.

"We're looking at the early days of a trend that we're going see over the next year," founder and managing partner, David Foote said. "We've seen companies telling us that it's true that [they] were very interested in certification, but as the economy has changed they are much more interested in hearing what they've done with those skills."

Nate Viall, the president of Nate Viall and Associates in Des Moines, Iowa, has been in IT for over 30 years and is currently working as a headhunter. He said, save for the late '90s when Microsoft and Novell systems administration certifications were in high demand, experience has always been the key component of any potential employee's resume.

"Education is not a substitute for experience. If you can do the job as opposed to a paper that says you have potential to the job, the weight falls on those that can do the job already," Viall said.

Part of what's behind these findings is the nature of the technology landscape. Factors like the blending of IT and operations tasks, increased government regulation, and merger and acquisition activity have IT workers wearing a lot of different hats.

"There has been a renaissance in IT roles and a redefinition of IT jobs so pervasive that traditional job titles are becoming increasingly meaningless. But overhauling job titles is an enormous undertaking because both pay and career paths are normally tied to them," Foote said. "The simpler solution is to differentiate workers with common job titles by recognizing technical skills fundamental to their jobs, putting a market value on those skills and adjusting base pay accordingly."

Foote sees hybrid jobs as a blessing for improving job opportunities, but something of a curse as well, and he said companies need to address the issue to ensure employees are bringing home the paycheck equal to their skill set. Of course, the demand for professionals with certified skills isn't going anywhere, but Foote sees a new mindset emerging.

"It's not that people are de-emphasizing certified skills, but rather they are emphasizing other things," Foote said. "The only answer is to say 'what makes this person really valuable around here.'"

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The non-technical skills Foote said have grown the most in terms of pay are applications development and language, which grew 9.4% between April 2004 and April 2005, and messaging/e-mail and Groupware sets, which saw a 9.1% spike in the same time frame. According to Foote, the jump in applications development salary is due in large part to companies reevaluating the true cost effectiveness of outsourcing that skill set.

Overall, both certified and non-certified IT workers have benefited from a surge in pay. According to Foote, the spike -- which began in 2004 -- is most likely centered on a more robust global economy, which led to an increase in hiring. Foote also sees a jump in market focus around retaining talent connected to legacy systems, critical technology and business initiatives.

The study of market values for more than 170 skills involved 48,000 IT workers in North American and Europe surveyed from January to April 2005.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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