Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Information Technology Student-Based Certification in Formal Education Settings: Who Benefits and What Is Needed

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Information Technology Student-Based Certification in Formal Education Settings: Who Benefits and What Is Needed

Article excerpt

Introduction

The growth and use of IT and the resulting demand for workers with specialized skills have placed a considerable demand on the traditional educational system to provide a qualified and sustainable IT workforce. According to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics (2004), information technology is the fastest growing sector in the economy with a projected 68% increase in growth rate between 2002 and 2012. In response to advances in computer technology, rapidly deprecating skill sets, and the slow response of traditional education, the IT industry uses certification as a way to train and accredit its own (Clarke, 2001). Cantor (2002) defines certification "as a confirmation of one's adequate knowledge and skills in a specified occupation or occupational specialty." Further, Cantor classifies IT certifications into two areas: (1) certifications issued by industry that are product-related and (2) certifications issued by organizations or professional associations.

In 1989, Novell created the first IT certification in response to a lack of trained individuals to support their mission critical tasks and the inability to turn to the traditional educational system for a trained supply of workers (Ziob, 2000). IT certifications have since grown as a result of the need for the IT industry to support its products and services (Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, 2001). As of January 2000, 2.4 million IT certifications have been awarded worldwide (Adelman, 2000a), and there are more than 120 IT vendors offering more than 1000 IT certifications (Rowe, 2003). IT certifications are developed by professional, trade, and industry associations as well as independent vendors and can be grouped into two general categories: vendor-specific and vendor-neutral. Vendor-specific certifications and curricula are developed and monitored by a particular vendor and focus primarily on an IT-related discipline surrounding a company's technology, service, and product line. Vendor-neutral certifications are developed and monitored by a consortium of experts from industry, public, and private sectors, and focus on methodology and technology surrounding a particular job role.

Obtaining a certification requires that an individual pass a criterion referenced assessment, acknowledging the attainment of specific skills (Carnevale & Desrochers, 2001). IT certification assessments are administered by the vendor or third party testing firm, and many vendors require that certificate holders re-certify after a specified period of time to demonstrate continued competency (Cantor, 2002). Certification vendors do not require students to provide poof of preparation before attempting an exam and, unlike the preparation for traditional course work given in formal education settings where curricular materials leading up to the exam are prescribed, the choice of preparation vehicles is left to the student (Koziniec & Dixon, 2002). Preparation vehicles for IT certification exams might include computer-based training, books, CDs, simulation software, exams cram sessions, vendor sponsored curricula, and instructor-led training offered at formal and non-formal educational institutions. IT certification vendors may suggest exam preparation materials or even provide proprietary IT curriculum at a cost to students and educational institutions.

The rapid pace at which technology evolves creates a need for highly skilled individuals to enable, apply, support, configure, and adapt IT products and services. Because IT certifications represent a standard measurement for specific IT skills, companies are seeking out professionals with these credentials (Al-Rawi, Lansari, & Bouslama, 2005). IT certification programs are considered by many to be responsive to industry needs and providing up-to-date, relevant training for continuously changing skill sets. Industry-based IT certification have become a standard precursor to employment for many IT job roles serving as an indication to human resource managers that specific precursory knowledge or competencies have been met. …

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