Careers: Hot Skill Areas You Can Bank On (Part 3 of 3)

You don’t have to be certified to enjoy job security -- demand for many uncertified skills is up

A prominent research firm says that offshore outsourcing is driving down base and premium compensation levels across the IT industry, for both certified and uncertified professionals alike.

According to salary researcher and management consultancy Foote Partners LLC, uncertified skill positions have been the hardest hit, suffering a 16 percent drop in premium pay for non-certified skills over the last two years, compared to a 6.5 percent decline in the average value of certified professionals. For the record, premium bonus pay for many certified and non-certified skills held steady until well into 2002, and Foote Partners attributes this decline to the offshore trend (see http://info.101com.com/default.asp?id=7807).

Nevertheless, certain uncertified skill areas have bucked this trend, posting gains in premium pay that have kept pace with or—in the case of Linux skills—outpaced the performance of their certified colleagues.

In spite of the losses of the last 24 months, premium bonus compensation levels for both certified and uncertified IT professionals aren’t that far apart. From April 1, 2003 to April 1 of this year, for example, Foote Partners found that median premium bonus pay across 86 surveyed uncertified skill areas declined by slightly more than 2 percent (to an average 6.6 percent of base pay). Compare that to premium median pay for certified IT professionals, which is 7.7 percent of base pay.

Many certifications—especially “beginner” certifications such as Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) and A+—fared far worse than others. Not surprisingly, there’s a similar trend afoot for uncertified skill positions. For example, over the 12 month period from April 1, 2003, premium pay for certain skill areas declined: networking and internetworking skills (down 4.7 percent), messaging and groupware skills (lower by 4.3 percent), enterprise application skills (dropping 3.6 percent), and application development tooling and language skills (off3 percent).

Similarly, the research firm says premium pay for these skills registered an even steeper decline over the 24 month period from April of 2002. Hardest hit was premium pay for messaging and groupware skills, which eroded by a staggering 24.1 percent. Other hard-hit uncertified skill areas include enterprise applications and suites (down 20.6 percent), applications development tooling and languages (18.6 percent), and both networking/internetworking and Web/E-commerce skills (14.4 percent).

The good news is that there’s still plenty of upside for uncertified IT professionals. For example, Gigabit Ethernet and voice-over-IP (VoIP) skills are hot, with the former boasting the biggest increase (25 percent) in base premium pay of any uncertified IT skill area. Uncertified VoIP premium pay was up by 10 percent for the year ending January 1, 2004. Both skills are earning above-average median premium bonus pay, the researcher firm says, with VoIP earning 11 percent of base salary, and Gigabit Ethernet earning 10 percent.

Elsewhere, uncertified Linux skills are hot, boasting a 22 percent increase in premium pay of over the last year alone—and a whopping 38 percent increase over the last two years. This outpaces the performance of certified Linux skills, which Foote Partners rates as “Warm,” buoyed by the performance of Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) certifications (up 13 percent this year).

Big Blue remains a good technology bet for IT professionals, with premium pay for WebSphere software skills increasing by 14 percent over the last 12 months. Premium pay for DB2 skills recovered nicely, reversing a 10 percent decline from two years ago by posting 13 percent growth through April of 2004.

Not surprisingly, premium pay for uncertified Web services skills also soared, with SOAP software skills growing by 14 percent for the year period beginning April 1, 2003. Uncertified XML skills were also in demand, with premium pay up by 8 percent in 2003, such that it’s now between 11 and 16 percent of base pay.

On a more alarming note, Foote Partners found that demand for SNA professionals is cold, with that skill area having lost at least 22 percent of its value over the last 12 months.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.