Small to mid-sized computer dealers and value-added resellers (VARs) that encourage or require training and certification do so for three significant reasons. The first is to assure customers and prospects of quality service, which builds trust, satisfaction, and repeat business. The second is to provide

a stimulating career path in order to retain the best and the brightest personnel. The third is to improve productivity and thus increase profitability.

The training and certification continuum is not a black-and-white issue. Some organizations fighting for profitability simply may not have the resources to embark on workforce development. Current economic realities, however, clearly indicate that, all other factors being equal, the small to mid-sized business that trains and certifies technicians will improve its competitive standing. (See the sidebar article on London Drugs in Behind the Week’s Headlines section of CDN This Week)

The roots of IT certification

In the late 1980s, exponential sales growth created a problem for Novell. Installations rose so rapidly that the company, outside support organizations, and the customers themselves had difficulty finding enough qualified people to support Novell-based systems. Novell’s innovative solution was to develop a program focused on training and certification, which was designed to rapidly expand the number of men and women certified to support its products. The solution worked. Newly certified Novell technicians found good jobs and Novell not only solved the support issue, but also created a new source of revenue from training and certification.

Subsequently, other leading suppliers facing similar support issues borrowed a page from Novell, and developed certification tracks. Certified technicians were in high demand and a certification almost, but not always, guaranteed a job.

In the early 1990s, suppliers and resellers approached the CompTIA services section, looking for a way of pooling resources to develop a set of standards for hiring and retaining PC technicians. These suppliers and reseller not only defined the problem but worked closely with CompTIA to develop a solution. The result of this industry effort was the CompTIA A+ certification, widely regarded as the most successful “vendor-neutral” certification in the world.

Other vendor-neutral certifications like CompTIA Network+, Server+, and Security+ followed. Over time the integration of vendor-neutral and vendor-specific certifications created well-defined career paths. The vendor-neutral certification ensured that technicians understood the “whys” of technology and promoted technician flexibility in a multi-technology environment. Vendor-specific certifications covered the “hows” and helped technicians specialize.

That was then and this is now

The market realities of 2004 are quite different from those of the 1990s. The trend toward hardware as a commodity has accelerated, which places incredible pressure on profit margins. Low inflation and low investments in technology over the last four years have reduced the ability of businesses to raise prices to cover increasing costs.

These conditions are bringing the benefits of training and certification into sharper focus. Customers – from individual consumers to large corporations – want to be assured that the technician working on a system is qualified. Certification gives them that objective assurance. The employer that requires personnel to be certified stands out as trustworthy and the business that inspires more confidence not only wins business, but retains it as well.

Requiring certification as a condition of employment and for advancement accomplishes a number of beneficial things for an organization. By making the investment in hiring and retaining personnel, the organization develops new capabilities and expands services. Certification assures that the employee population has mastered best industry practices. Conversely, employees understand that this employer is investing in his or her future. This realization creates loyalty and a powerful incentive to stay with the employer.

Training and certification add more money to the bottom line through higher productivity and quality. Certified employees have been shown in most studies to work well and to work smart. Less time is spent on solving customer problems, and there are fewer call backs.

There is a wealth of quality training to choose from, saving organizations the time and expense of building courses from scratch. Many organizations cost effectively layer company specific learning on top of industry specific. Employers also appreciate the growing number of certifications that emphasize the importance of soft skills, including communications, leadership, and project management. These skills become important as technicians work more closely with end users.

Training and certification have truly matured to become new imperatives for every company that relies on information system technology.

Denise Woods is the International Director of Canada for CompTIA and is a 12 year veteran of the IT business. Woods focuses her energy on membership engagement, certification, and growing the academic market in Canada. She can be reached at dwoods@compTIA.org.

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