Surprise! Certified IT jobs are paying less

Tech employment is on the rise, but the traditional premiums paid to certified techies has reached a 12-year low

The market for IT jobs has not just bottomed out, it's stronger than it has been in several years. There is, however, a catch: The premium pay for jobs requiring the typical certifications that many IT hands labor for has continued its plunge and now is at the lowest point in 12 years.

That news comes from a quarterly survey by Foote Partners, a consultancy that issues detailed reports on the IT labor market, monitoring some 2,200 employers and more than 120,000 jobs.

Why the disconnect between a stronger overall job market and shrinking paychecks for certified techies? "Pure-play [tech] jobs are on the decline," says Bill Reynolds, a partner in the firm. Where once the majority of tech jobs were in technology companies, now many organizations whose business is not directly related to tech have many openings that require different skills, he tells me.

[ The IT economy vs. the rest of the economy: Count yourself lucky to work in tech, at least for now. But with no light at the end of the economic tunnel, it pays to keep your skills sharp. | Keep up with the key tech news and analysis with the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]

Business skills are more and more in demand, but they don't show up on a certification test, Reynolds says. "In fact, less than 20 percent of all IT professionals employed today -- or approximately 4 million of a total technical workforce estimated at between 20 to 24 million [pure technology and hybrid workers] in the U.S. -- now work within the walls of what could be consider the traditional IT department," his company reports.

I've been looking hard at the market for tech jobs lately, and what Reynolds and his company are telling me tracks very closely with what I'm hearing from many employers and seeing on the major tech employment boards. However, I believe Foote overstates the number of tech jobs in the country.

Still, it's no accident that there are more tech job opening in New York and Washington, D.C., where financial services and the federal government are huge employers, than in Silicon Valley, according to Dice, the largest of those job boards.

A long-term decline in certified jobs' pay
"The average market value for 274 noncertified skills dipped slightly from July to October [2011] for the second consecutive quarter, following gains in the previous five calendar quarters and in 21 of 28 quarters going back to 2004. But pay premiums for 240 IT certifications continued their downward trend for a fifth straight quarter -- and for 19 of the last 20 quarters," the Foote report states. (Foote tracks actual salaries, but it doesn't release that data to the media.)

There were some exceptions to the decline in premium pay for certified jobs: The applications development/programming category and the systems administration and engineering category both grew in overall market value, bolstered by gains in specialist certifications from Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Red Hat, and Microsoft.

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