Businesses looking to improve employee engagement and retention are focusing on continuing education and professional development, including certifications, both to help cultivate the tech skills needed for competitive advantage and to reduce turnover. For that reason, many companies are willing to pick up the tab.
Career Development Fuels Retention
"In my opinion, career development is regarded as the number-1 retention tool in IT," says Diane Berry, research vice president for Gartner's CIO and Executive Leadership group practice. "Companies are very willing to foot the bill for training, education and certification because the technical expertise is an investment in furthering their business strategy," she says.
Recent research from CompTIA backs up Berry's assertion, says James Stanger, formerly the president and chief certification architect for Certification Partners LLC, and who currently develops certification exams for CompTIA.
A July 2013 survey on IT careers asking more than 1,350 IT professionals who paid for their certification training and materials and their testing found that 49 percent of respondents said their employer paid for their training, classes and materials, with an additional 10 percent being reimbursed by their employer for the cost, while and 47 percent said their employers reimbursed them for the cost of testing. An additional 28 percent said their employers paid directly for their certification tests. (See survey results at the end of this article.)
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"Employers consistently remain interested in paying for training and for certification," says Stanger. "One of the major obstacles, though, is companies that will say, 'Well, what happens if I pay to train and certify, and the employee leaves?' and my answer is always, 'What happens if you don't pay for this training and these skills … and they stay?'"
Stanger adds that, according to CompTIA data, about 60 percent of certification candidates stay with their current employer after certification. "Employees like to see their companies invest in their future, and funding their training and certification is one of the clearest ways a company can show they are invested in the employee's success and truly cares about their professional development," he says.
Benefits Far Outweigh the Costs of Certification
Stanger says CIOs are willing to pay for education, training and certification because the benefits far outweigh the monetary costs. Certification can result in more productive, engaged employees whose critical thinking skills can drive a proactive approach to solving problems before they arise and negatively affect the business.
"CIOs look at this as a 'What do I get out of this?' scenario, and the major benefit is that their workforce is much more engaged, productive and dedicated to taking initiative to make sure the business succeeds," Stanger says.
In addition, there's the ability to quickly and easily gauge an employee or candidate's level of knowledge, which can make hiring decisions or promotion decisions much simpler, he says.
"Employers love certifications because they can see the benchmark. They don't have to worry that there's a missing fundamental level of knowledge. Instead, they know the minimum level of knowledge each candidate or employee already has based on standards," Stanger says.
A Proven Path to Advancement
For employees, certification is a tried-and-true path to a raise, a promotion, or even a career change, even if they choose to pay for the classes and exams themselves.
"Our survey showed that 25 percent of candidates paid for the classes and training themselves; they're in the minority, but it's a great way to prove to potential employers that they have the skills and knowledge required to get the job, or the raise, or the promotion," says Stanger.
"These candidates recognize that they might be lacking fundamental skills and knowledge, and this is a great way to fill in those gaps," he says. In many cases, he says, candidates report that their skill sets, productivity and engagement improve, and they are able to leverage those performance improvements into higher pay or a better title.
"Generally speaking, I do believe certification provides a competitive edge as far as your 'marketability' as a job seeker," says Gartner's Berry. "If your employer will foot the bill for either the training or the exam -- or both -- great, but it's definitely worth making the investment yourself if they won't, especially if it's a growing career track," she says.
The following is based on a July 2013 CompTIA survey of more than 1,350 IT professionals in the U.S.:
Who paid for your classes, training, books, etc.?
- Employer: 49%
- Myself, not reimbursed: 25%
- Myself, but reimbursed by employer: 10%
- Parents / guardian: 8%
- Support organization (VA, unemployment office) 2%
- Other: 8%
Who paid for your certification exam?
- Myself, but reimbursed by employer: 47%
- Employer directly: 28%
- Myself, but not reimbursed: 15%
- Parents / guardian: 8%
- Support organization (VA, unemployment office): 3%
- Other: 6 percent