Perhaps you already know Pearson VUE as the company that delivers the Cisco certification exams. In fact, many of you have sat for one of those exams! Toward the end of 2017, Pearson VUE asked 29,000 test takers just like yourself to weigh in on the merits of certification as part of the Pearson VUE 2017 Value of IT Certification Survey.


The survey audience comprised professionals from all over the world: the Americas, Europe, Russia, Africa, the Middle East/North Africa, the Caribbean Islands, and Australia/New Zealand.


Not surprisingly, a majority 67.2 percent work in IT itself. Other areas of employment included telecommunications, government, financial services, education, and healthcare. Twenty percent came from Microsoft, and 17.7 percent call Cisco home. Also represented were Oracle, IBM, VMware, HP, and many others—an inclusive sampling of global organizations.


It’s impressive that 81 percent of those 29,000+ respondents took some form of training course over the past 12 months, through an instructor-led classroom, a virtual classroom, or digital training.


iStock-848840956.jpgAll who took an exam last year were invited to address numerous meaty questions: Is certification worth the effort? What motivated them to take this path? How did they prepare for the testing? Would they do it again? Recommend it to their friends? What outlook did they come away with? Their answers might well influence your own decisions and offer assurance that your choice to become certified was the smart one.


Pearson VUE partnered with 35 leading IT organizations to conduct this survey using their exam registration data. In many ways, the survey responses sketch a picture of the hottest job opportunities and most significant current trends in IT.


Certification choices show a fast-changing IT landscape


It’s revealing to see which task areas participants chose for training—probably feeling that those fields offered the best career advantages. This is where a picture of the IT landscape takes shape through people’s choices. The top five stack up as follows:


  • Networking: 38.2%
  • Security: 26.1%
  • Cloud: 24.2%
  • Servers: 23.6%
  • Virtualization: 22.6%


Training has an end purpose, of course, namely certification itself. So, having trained, what did people go on to become certified in? Not surprisingly, certification exams track—though not exactly—to training choices. What’s revealing here is that cloud, although in fourth place below, has actually climbed four percent from 2016:


  • Networking: 32.4%
  • Security: 20.3%
  • Servers: 19.7%
  • Cloud: 16.7%
  • Virtualization: 15%


Having tested in these areas, would people seek the opportunity to take on even more specialized certifications, such as security coding? A healthy 72 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they wanted that opportunity.


The transformative impact of certification


If anything really stands out in this survey, it’s the impact of getting certified. Those who gained a boost in their professional image or reputation, or who moved into a career in IT represent a stunning 87.5 percent—of 29,000 people! Others mention that it helped them get a salary increase (17.7 percent), find a job (15.5 percent), or nail that promotion (12.5 percent).


Pressing for specifics, the survey asked how certification helped the most; to this, over a third (36.9 percent) referred to confidence (there’s that word “confidence” again), as in, “It helped me to perform complex tasks more confidently.” And feeling sure of yourself opens the door to taking on more challenges, which spells success, as evidenced by the 21.6 percent who felt that it improved their performance reviews.


Another interesting reveal is that when people were asked whether it was important to assess “soft skills” such as problem solving and time management, in addition to purely technical skills, 67.4 percent agreed or strongly agreed.


Proof of value: growing more bankable—and popular


Over half of the respondents (54 percent) said that they saw these benefits within the first three months, and 23 percent said they received a salary increase (for some, even as high as 11 to 20 percent) upon earning a certification. There’s no arguing with a decision you can take to the bank.


iStock-542111890.jpgA very revealing proof of value lies in what people recommend to their own friends and associates. Fully 86 percent would recommend certification to a colleague. Given that they may well work with these people every day, that’s an impressive testimonial.


So, who pays?


A majority (55 percent) of those training can tip the hat to their employers, who picked up the costs. At the same time, 25.9 percent showed commendable initiative in paying for their own training. Others had training folded in with their education or obtained funding from various other sources.


When it came to funding the certification exam itself, 56 percent of employers again reached for their collective wallet. Self-paying decreased six percent from 2016. Eight out of ten people used self-study materials over the past year, for which 46 percent paid themselves. However it was funded, though, 76 percent felt that self-study played a key role in their passing the certification exams. Seventy-two percent even said that the ability to self-study by itself increased their confidence in taking the exam—and confidence is a key factor in reaching any goal.


The road to promotion is paved with certification


Quite a few people got the message when it came to training for certification. Despite the added effort, 88 percent declared themselves “likely or very likely” to go for certification within the next 12 months. Again—that’s out of 29,000 people responding.


Once again as well, the top five disciplines were overwhelmingly represented in people’s future training plans:


  • Networking: 32%
  • Cloud: 30%
  • Security: 29.6%
  • Virtualization: 22.4%
  • Servers: 22%

Of these responders, 27.9 percent planned to take Cisco courses.


For certification exams themselves, the figures were similar:


  • Networking: 30.5%
  • Cloud: 26.5%
  • Security: 26.4%
  • Servers: 21%
  • Virtualization: 18.6%


Overall, people showed independence in the fields they chose to become certified in, as well as the routes they plan to take. Some were “likely and very likely” to use instructor-led training (59 percent), over 75 percent planned to take an online course, and 68 percent planned to purchase self-study materials. No doubt quite a few will do all three.


Putting this collective wisdom to work in your career


As an IT professional, you face an intense new set of challenges as dramatic shifts in the business and technology landscape make themselves felt. Competitive pressures, both in the workplace and the marketplace are creating a nearly insatiable demand for relevant skills. Certification can give you a solid core of confidence about choosing the right path. The Pearson VUE survey reveals how your peers and colleagues think about the process of certification, and the directions they’re choosing as they plan their careers. You might find it valuable in making your own decision to look at the Pearson VUE survey itself, with a full set of answers and statistics.


Which direction does your compass point?


If you’re weighing a decision to reach new horizons in your career, why not also explore the perspective of IT management? Our white paper, The Impact and Importance of Technical Certifications: The Management View,” will fill you in on the attitudes toward certification of the people who are responsible for running the organization or significant areas of it. And, if you want to learn more about some of the top-ranking training areas highlighted in this survey, such as networking, security, and cloud, visit our new white papers library.


And lastly, if you're energized by the survey results, but daunted by the possibility of having to pay for training or certification yourself, we have a nifty financial guide for you, full of tips and cost-saving advice for funding your next career opportunity.


Information from the Pearson VUE 2017 Value of IT Certification Survey, Copyright © 2018 Pearson. All rights reserved.


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Primary photoLinda Boroff is a technical and marketing writer with more than a decade of experience in areas including network security, analytics, virtual data center, and SDN.