The hottest IT skills are noncertified

Employers are paying higher premiums for IT skills that don't come with a piece of paper, though hands-on experience remains a big draw

IT professionals who spend hours cramming to earn shiny new IT certifications, such MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist) and CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), are seeing a decline in the pay boost they reap for their achievements. Meanwhile, employees with tech skills for which certifications don't exist, such as Tcl and SAS development, VoIP, and business performance management, are reaping increasingly fatter premiums, according to Foote Partners' most recent IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index

Foote Partners has tracked the premiums employers have been paying for 483 different certified and noncertified IT skills. Since 2004, pay for the noncertified skills have risen in 21 of the past 26 quarters. Meanwhile, certification pay premiums have dropped in 17 of the part 18 quarters.

The findings don't mean that certifications have no value, Foote notes; employees who've earned a new acronym are seeing some paycheck padding for their efforts. Rather, the trend signifies that certification programs aren't always keeping pace with the hot IT skills employers are seeking.

Noncertified skills added to the list in the past three month include virtualization-related proficiencies in Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Virtual Server, and VMware Server. Meanwhile, a host of Oracle-related certifications have made the list of late, including Oracle Certified Expert for Solaris 10 for both network and systems admins, as well as developer expertise in Oracle WebLogic Server and Portal 10g.

Employers tend to value real on-the-job experience over lessons learned in the classroom. "[If] an employer is facing a choice between a worker with demonstrated experience in [a] skill or a person who is less experienced by holds a certification in the same skill, I think employers will choose the experienced person and pay a higher premium for that experience," said David Foote, CEO and chief research officer of Foote Partners. "Ideally, they'd probably like to have both because certification does imply a dedication and commitment."

Certifications with less juice
According to Foote, the average premium pay for IT certifications has dropped 4.6 percent over the past two years. Certifications that fall under the category of "beginner and training" have seen the biggest drop in that period, 32 percent. IT pros with certifications in networking and communication have seen the second most significant decrease at 10.4 percent. Pay premiums for database certifications have dropped 6.4 percent over the past two years. Further, certifications in skills pertaining to architecture, project management, and process saw a 6.1 percent drop in premium pay.

There's good news for the latter group: Pay premiums increased by 1.9 percent over the past year. Beyond that, only certifications in app dev and programming languages have seen any kind of rise in the past three months, a mere 1.2 percent jump.

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