With IT salaries dropping, some hard-earned skills still pay

Employers are still willing to pay highly skilled IT staff a premium — but certification is making much less of a difference than it used to, a study shows.

With IT salaries dropping, some hard-earned skills still pay
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Even with more IT workers looking for jobs in the wake of COVID-19 than were prior to the pandemic, highly skilled staff are able to demand higher pay. Increasingly, however, it’s on-the-job experience and not certifications that employers are valuing the most.

The average premium paid for tech certifications fell to 6.8% of base salary in the third quarter, the lowest in 7 years, according to Foote Partners’ latest IT Skills & Certifications Pay Index, while non-certified skills earned workers an average bonus of 9.6% of base salary, the same as in the previous quarter — and the highest in the past 20 years.

Those bonuses are all the more important to employees when, as Foote Partners found in a separate survey of IT jobs, not yet published, salaries dropped over the past year for 41% of job titles. Among those titles hardest hit are jobs in mobile platform computing, business systems analysis, .NET, digital product development, IT architecture, enterprise messaging, web systems, and SAP. Overall, across the 516 certifications the company tracks, the average premium for certifications declined by 1.5% during the quarter, and by 6.7% over the year to Oct. 1.

In some categories, notably cybersecurity, architecture and project management, the decline accelerated in the third quarter, although there was a slight increase in bonus pay offered for some certifications in networking, communications, app development and programming languages during the same period.

SAP sapped

Average premiums for the 594 non-certified skills Foote Partners tracks have risen 2.2% over the year to Oct. 1. Premiums paid for skills in web and e-commerce development, messaging and communications dipped by a few percent, but the biggest fall was in the average reward for SAP and enterprise business application skills, down 4.6% this past quarter and down 9.9% for the year.

Rewards rose fastest for non-certified skills in operating systems (up 3.8% for the quarter and 5.4% for the year) and in application development (up 3.7% for the quarter and 5.3% for the year).

While pay for non-certified SAP and other enterprise business application skills declined overall, premiums paid for SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence, SAP Hybris, and SAP BI skills all rose by more than 10% over the quarter, as did those for Oracle CRM, SCM, BPM and Payables, and Pega, J.D. Edwards, and Remedy ITSM skills.

Application developers skilled in SPSS, Apache Zookeeper, Ant, Lucene or Camel, Red Hat Fuse or Ethereum saw their pay premiums rise fastest.

Less valued were skills in specific enterprise business application modules such as SAP Oil & Gas, SAP Integrated Business Planning, SAP Sales & Distribution, SAP for Retail, Oracle Retail, PeopleSoft and Oracle HRMS, for which pay premiums declined 10% or more over the quarter.

Overall, the largest cash premiums were available for experience in devsecops, Ethereum and other smart contracts platforms, and specific tools such as Amazon’s serverless interactive query service Athena, or Apache’s distributed database Hbase, stream processing framework Flink and distributed configuration management system Zookeeper. Experience in Hbase and Zookeeper attracts an average premium of 18 percent of base pay.

As such, CIOs seeking to maintain or modernize older infrastructure on a tight budget may be able to stretch their money further.

Certs that are still in demand

While the average value of certifications declined, pay premiums for a few rose sharply, including cloud certifications such as AWS Certified Solutions Architect at the Associate and Professional levels.

Some security certifications remained hot, rising in value by 10% or more, including EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA), Check Point Certified Security Expert (CCSE), Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate, Systems Security Certified Practitioner and GIAC Information Security Professional (GISP).

Security specialists need to pick their GIAC certifications carefully, though: 14 others dropped in value by 10% or more, including those for Unix and Windows security admins, and certified perimeter protection and network forensic analysts.

Certification bonuses for cybersecurity were among the most volatile during the quarter, Foote Partners noted.

Also out of favor are a panoply of SAS qualifications, Oracle certifications in SOA 12c Infrastructure Implementation, Java EE Web Services development, and WebLogic Server admin, and a handful of HP accreditations and VMware certifications.

The certification that saw the biggest decline was CompTIA Linux+, now offering a premium of just 4% of base salary, a little over half what it attracted in April. Six Sigma Green Belt and Black Belt bonuses have both declined by about a third since April — but are still worth 6% and 8% over base salary, respectively.

Foote Partners complies data from 3,640 organizations across North America, employing 330,340 technology professionals between them. That’s a large sample of an even larger population: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 12.2 million tech workers in the U.S. alone.

Between April and July this year, 210,000 of those 12.2 million lost their jobs — although there was a net increase of 25,600 jobs in the sector in August and September, with more to come by year-end.

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