Good news, job seekers: IT certifications are hot again

The torrid pace of job growth in IT may (or may not) be slowing. But employers are definitely paying more for the right skills

No one is quite sure if demand for IT workers is slowing or steady. Regardless, what you need to know is this: Plenty of jobs are still out there, and employers are paying more for people with the right mix of skills -- and certifications.

That's good news. For years, the value of certifications was on the decline, while premiums paid for noncertified skills soared. But earlier this year, that started to change, and new data shows the renewed trend ito certificates' value is taking root.

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"In a significant reversal of a long-standing trend, average pay premiums for IT certifications rose 1.5 percent in the third quarter of 2013, the largest quarterly gain since 2005 and the first time since 2006 that there has been two consecutive quarter of positive growth in pay for certifications," reports David Foote, chief analyst at Foote Partners, which surveys IT salaries and premium pay across more than 2,400 employers.

Premium pay for noncertified skills increased by just 0.4 percent in the quarter. But given that those premiums have jumped in 29 of the last 36 quarters, noncertified skills also remain worth pursuing. To be clear, premium pay is esentially a bonus on top of salary. Those percentage rises aren't as great in dollar value as the numbers may suggest. For example, if your salary is $50,000 and you get a $3,000 cert premium, a 5 percent rise in that premium is $150 (5 percent of $3,000, not of your $50,000 salary or the $53,000 total).

Still, it's real money. Perhaps more important, it reflects job demand throughout the industry because premiums tend to increase as the supply of qualified workers tightens.

The hottest IT certifications
Over the last six months, the hottest certifications have been in the following:

  • Systems administration and engineering, gaining 3.4 percent in value
  • Architecture and project management, gaining 2.7 percent
  • Databases, gaining 2.4 percent
  • Information security, gaining 1.8 percent

At the same time, certification premiums for Web development dropped 3.1 percent, and premiums for certs in application development and programming languages fell 1.7 percent.

Here is a partial list of specific IT certifications earning workers above-average pay premiums right now and that Foote expects to continue to grow at a brisk pace (Foote's latest PDF report lists many more): Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC), CWNP Certified Wireless Security Professional, CWNP/Certified Wireless Network Expert, GIAC Certified Forensics Analyst (GCFA), and GIAC Certified Intrusion Analyst (GCIA).

Here are some of the noncertified skills commanding the best premiums: Apache CouchDB, big data analytics, business intelligence, business performance management (software/systems), capacity planning and management, and data architecture.

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