Suzana Lopes, Pearson VUE VP EMEA Sales and Marketing, explains how we as an industry can improve Britain’s competitive knowledge economy by promoting the importance of certification.
As an industry, IT professionals place more value than most on the importance of a properly certified workforce.
Most of us - whether big vendors, training partners or individuals working in the industry - agree that training and testing people to recognisable standards is the key to many different goals: minimising business risk, promoting career progression, hiring and developing personnel and ultimately establishing business competitiveness in a global economy.
That said, while certification’s stock is generally high in our culture, there is always room for improvement. Every now and again it is important to examine the landscape and try to identify where it could be better used or promoted. Who is setting a shining example by placing a high priority on creating a generation of qualified specialists? And who has yet to recognise the importance of training and assessment?
Taking the lead, as always, are the big software companies. They are acutely aware that the future of the entire industry of which they are at the forefront depends on continuous improvement and rapid evolution both in terms of technology and in terms of the skills and competencies of the people working with it. As a result they place the highest emphasis on encouraging people to take the course, sit the exam and gain the qualification at the same rate as new technology is released onto the market.
They use their power and influence to make sure of it. Most vendors will stipulate that if a reseller wants to achieve silver, gold or platinum partner status, they must meet the requirement that a minimum percentage of their workforce be made up of certified engineers. These types of certification are vendor-specific – often owned and developed by the software companies themselves and recognised with the same status as those developed by vendor-neutral awarding bodies.
Also leading the charge are big tech companies whose HR departments recognise that they have a strong requirement for internal training and assessment programmes. These types of organisations contribute heavily to the ongoing demand for vendor-neutral certifications.
By extension, there are many big companies and organisations in the UK that, while not tech companies themselves, have a reliance on their own in-house technology and the technical staff that work with it. From retailers to local councils, these too are largely in agreement that properly certified technical staff are a necessity.
Their systems are often business critical and rather than taking the risk of outsourcing such technology they generally build a business around in-house skills. This means they can develop their business from a position of complete understanding as their own people know their systems inside and out.
Furthermore, such big organisations - particularly in Britain’s service industries - place an importance on the skills of their people because this is where their competitive advantage lies on the global market. If British businesses are to compete internationally, it cannot be on price.
High property and labour costs here compared to elsewhere in the world would prohibit this, therefore as many business commentators have observed, we must stop thinking about how cheaply we can do things but instead focus on value and quality. Britain needs cutting edge creativity, initiative and expertise from its workforce, and its big employers have the guardianship of these skills rooted in their culture.
Certification in the SME sector
One area where we in the technology industry especially need to promote certification, and in a creative way, is in the SME sector. Smaller and medium-sized companies still make up the majority of those employers either not investing in, or not valuing, officially recognised qualifications.
Despite research proving that employees who are offered training and qualifications programmes are usually more motivated, productive and loyal, there still remains a suspicion among SME employers that if they invest in their staff’s career development they simply run the risk that those individuals will then migrate away with the help of their newly-gained certificates. This is a prejudice we need to address.
That said, most SMEs do at least recognise the importance of qualifications when it comes to hiring. Possession of the right certificates is the key for candidates seeking employment in a given speciality, certainly in technical and IT-focused roles. A key point to make here, however, is that even the most forward-thinking SMEs remain unlikely to actually back certification to the extent of investing financially in it.
Individuals pursuing careers in small and independent businesses need to motivate and fund themselves to undergo the training and sit the exams they need, because these types of employers (unlike the big players outlined above) simply do not have the resources to support them in this way.
Looking at the long-term goal
So how can we, specifically the training and assessment providers, champion the cause of certification in the SME sector? The answer doesn’t seem to lie in selling them training programmes.
In the current economy most of these businesses are cutting back on non-core investments and many are living hand-to-mouth. Convincing a small or medium company to set up a training and certification programme, or even to send its staff on an existing course, looks like a difficult sell in these times.
The marketing approach therefore needs to be more subtle – one of creating a pull rather than a push. Instead of marketing our products and services to a tough audience, our communications ought to promote a more long-term message and look at the bigger picture. Rather than investing in marketing and PR campaigns devised to push sales, we need to look beyond and work to influence a shift in attitude.
We need to promote the value of certification by showing that training is a means to an end: that end being a measurable proof of competency that actually means something. Once our business culture is such that an individual is required to sit the test before applying for a certain job at any company, then the demand for training and testing will naturally follow.
If we can convince the SME sector to insist on standardised qualifications for those wishing to pursue an IT career within it, we will ultimately be helping to drive the competitiveness of British business.
Media contacts: Oliver Chesher or Lucy Cunliffe at GyroHSR, (+44 161 876 5522), email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org