A difficult economic climate is driving many organisations to re-examine their operations. Ensuring employees have the skills to utilise the latest software capabilities helps companies fully realise the potential value of their technology investments while achieving reduced costs and improved staffing efficiencies.
Chris Pirie, general manager of Sales and Marketing for Microsoft Learning, discusses how companies can develop their skills base to cut costs, drive productivity, and increase competitiveness in challenging economic times; and what Microsoft is doing to help them achieve these goals. Pirie also talks about how IT training and certification can bolster individuals’ job security and, for those in the employment market, boost their prospects of finding work.
Why is training so important?
Pirie: The people dimension of technology often gets overlooked. Software doesn’t work by itself; it is people who maximise its value. So, ensuring they are ready to work on the latest technologies is critical. That makes training even more important in tough economic conditions, because it’s the catalyst for unlocking the full value of technology to pare costs and boost productivity.
A recent IDC Performance Impact Study (1) found that the single biggest factor in the success of IT solutions was the skill of the team managing the technology. Teams that met most or all of their objectives typically had twice the amount of training as teams that achieved only partial success.
Research also suggests that people who have fully developed their skills through certification are more productive than those without certification. A Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) customer satisfaction survey conducted last year found that 63 percent of hiring managers considered certified professionals more productive than their noncertified peers. (1)
Certification, which encompasses training and skills validation, is a proven way to maximise the effectiveness of IT professionals. Plus, it often can be accomplished within existing training budgets.
Investing in employees’ skills development also creates a powerful statement about an organisation’s long-term commitment to its people. This is something we take very seriously internally at Microsoft. We’re very proud that we’re on track to certify 100 percent of our customer-facing technical sales staff by the end of the current fiscal year.
The need for training is particularly acute amid the chronic IT skills shortage. Several studies point to a significant and growing gap between demand for IT professionals and their supply. IDC puts the shortfall at 40 percent for some IT disciplines. (2) Smart companies — the ones that will emerge from this challenging economic situation stronger — are looking at long-term solutions to bridge the IT skills gap.
“Skilled individuals or teams are more able to maximize the value of technology, adapt to change and better prioritise critical activities in difficult economic times. Attaining certification can help IT professionals acquire and demonstrate relevant skills and can be a differentiator whether looking for a new job or a promotion” — Cushing Anderson, IDC
What is Microsoft doing to help organisations deliver training and certification to their employees?
Pirie: For starters, companies with Microsoft Software Assurance for Volume Licensing have access to vouchers for free instructor-led training from more than 1,500 Microsoft Certified Partners for Learning Solutions, our authorised training channel. By activating the Software Assurance Training Vouchers (SATVs), customers can help their employees build or refresh key IT skills. And IT managers can monitor their staffs’ progress, no matter where they’re located, through e-learning reports that detail assessment, course, and login activities. There are 1 million training days available to enterprise customers through Software Assurance benefits. These are training days that staff can use without companies incurring any additional expense. At a time when training expenses are coming under increasing scrutiny, this is a major bonus for organisations.
Another resource employees can take advantage of through Software Assurance is free e-learning benefits. Individuals can take advantage of the SATV and online training benefits through their company’s benefits administrator, usually within HR or IT departments.
We’re also addressing the IT skills shortage by priming the pipeline of skilled IT professionals coming onto the job market. The Microsoft IT Academy provides a complete curriculum, including courseware and e-learning modules, to enable high schools, colleges and universities to offer technology education programs. Students benefit by gaining a road map to technology proficiency and enhanced job prospects through industry-recognised credentials.
Additionally, the Microsoft IT Academy Student Pass gives university students access to free e-learning courses in Microsoft technologies.
Why should IT professionals invest in training and certification?
Pirie: People need to look at their career over the long haul. Just as smart companies take a long-term view by investing in their people, smart people take a long-term perspective by investing in their professional development.
The bottom line is that certification helps IT professionals get jobs and keep them. For job seekers, certification is a proven differentiator with potential employers. Investing in training and certification demonstrates motivation and a commitment to improving and extending their skills.
More than half the hiring managers who responded to the 2007 MCP Customer Satisfaction Survey said they considered certification a prerequisite for hiring. Nearly half viewed it as a key element in promotion. (3)
Certification is a tool that pays dividends across all stages of a career. Fifty-six percent of people polled in the MCP study who earned Microsoft certification to improve their marketability and billable rates, reported succeeding in these goals. Seventy-one percent attributed a promotion or raise to Microsoft certification. (4)
Certification also draws individuals into the larger community of 2.5 million Microsoft-certified professionals, giving them access to exclusive Microsoft resources and benefits, including peer support through private newsgroups; professional tools and opportunities such as résumé posting and job searches; and professional networking tools. Very often it’s who you know that gets your foot in the door with prospective employers, so being a part of the MCP community can generate powerful benefits.
What is Microsoft doing for the individual IT professional?
Pirie: In September, we launched a program called Second Shot, which allows people to retake Microsoft certification exams for free should they should fail on their first attempt.
Second Shot will be a key component of the comprehensive Career Assist Package we’re launching in February, under which developers and IT professionals will be able to take advantage of a significantly discounted bundle of e-learning modules to get certified in key technologies and advance their careers. The Career Assist Package will also provide general certification information, learning plans that walk them through the steps needed to achieve certification, and access to a full roster of local events providing personalised certification information.
I’d strongly urge individuals to validate and update their skills through certification and take advantage of Microsoft skills development resources like the Career Assist Package. Finally, becoming an active member of the MCP community allows IT professionals to connect to a network of their peers that can be invaluable in helping them land a coveted job.
(1) Cushing Anderson, “Worldwide and U.S. IT Certification Training and Testing, 2008-2012 Forecast,” IDC, August 2008, IDC
(2) 2138282 IDC White Paper sponsored by Cisco Learning Institute, "Networking Skills in North America: Trends, Gaps, and Strategies," Doc # 210587, May 2008
(3) Microsoft Learning (2007). Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) customer
satisfaction study (2007 ed.). Redmond, WA: Various.
(4) 2007 Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) Customer Satisfaction Study