One solution to the persistent tech talent shortage may be almost too obvious to mention — certifications.
Industry certifications have traditionally had the combined benefit of giving candidates an edge in the job market and offering employers assurance that a candidate holds specific proficiencies. They still serve that function, according to Nick Kolakowski, senior editor at Dice Insights, a division of tech recruiting company Dice.
Long a mainstay in the rapidly evolving field of IT, certification programs offer a relatively accessible source of talent for companies stuck in the delta between the demand for tech workers, which remains strong despite macroeconomic uncertainty, and supply, which has failed to keep pace.
“For many technologists, possessing certifications can help assure a recruiter or hiring manager that they have indeed learned the skills for a particular job, which in turn can help them stand out in a crowded applicant field,” Kolakowski said.
The applicant field isn’t as crowded as companies need it to be, according to August’s Dice Tech Job Report.
The report tracked and analyzed more than three million postings for open tech positions and found a 45% increase in postings since the start of the year. The volume of tech job postings grew 52% in the first half of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.
Software engineers, a perennial favorite, commanded the top spot for number of postings. But data professions dominated the top ten, with data analyst, data engineer and data scientist all ranking as highly sought-after positions.
Data science, cloud engineering and cybersecurity are the big three skill areas, according to Art Zeile, president and CEO of Dice’s parent company DHI Group.
“Anything that's associated with Python, which is an entry way to data science, and anything that is associated with data skills, like learning Tableau, is super critical,” Zeile said.
Demand equals dollars
It’s a fundamental principle of economics — demand in excess of supply raises the price of what's desired.
Demand for data engineers grew 100% compared to the first half of 2021, outpaced only by software engineering jobs, according to Dice. Nearly two-thirds of the 1,000 hiring managers surveyed by Upwork for a report released last month anticipate that data science and analytics positions will be the hardest to fill over the next six months.
That demand translates into dollars, a correlation reflected in June’s Global Knowledge report on top-paying certifications. The Google Certified Professional Data Engineer credential led the pack, with an average salary of $171,749, followed by Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect and AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, based on data from more than 3,700 U.S. respondents.
2021’s highest-paying certifications, U.S.
|Google Certified Professional Data Engineer||$171,749|
|Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect||$169,029|
|AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate||$159,033|
|CRISC - Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control||$151,995|
|CISSP - Certified Information Systems Security Professional||$151,853|
|CISM – Certified Information Security Manager||$149,246|
|PMP® - Project Management Professional||$148,906|
|NCP-MCI - Nutanix Certified Professional - Multicloud Infrastructure||$142,810|
|CISA - Certified Information Systems Auditor||$134,460|
|VCP-DVC - VMware Certified Professional - Data Center Virtualization 2020||$132,947|
|MCSE: Windows Server||$125,980|
|Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate||$121,420|
|CCNP Enterprise - Cisco Certified Network Professional - Enterprise||$118,911|
|CCA-V - Citrix Certified Associate – Virtualization||$115,308|
A tight labor market can have a distorting effect on the value of certifications in both upward and downward directions.
“As more companies hire data scientists to do crucial data science work, many will want those candidates to have certifications,” Kolakowski said.
Pressed to recruit skilled technologists, nine in 10 tech leaders surveyed by the human resources consulting firm Robert Half for its 2022 salary guide said they would hire candidates from certification and technical training programs in lieu of a traditional degree.
The same logic applies to certifications. Employers want IT workers with specific skills, regardless of whether or not they hold certifications.
“It seems likely that employers hungry to secure tech talent will be more flexible on whether candidates have certifications, so long as those candidates can demonstrate their mastery of the core technologies involved in the job,” said Kolakowski.
Data science, data engineering and analytics have entered the top tier of in-demand tech skills, a place where outright ability outweighs academic degrees and professional certifications. Yet, employers still need a way to spot talent and proficiency in data science requires training.
“There's no shortcut to Java,” said Zeile. “You can learn Python acceptably in probably about a year. You can learn the skills associated with cloud engineering or cybersecurity within a year. Data science, understanding machine learning training models and code, is much more of a heavy lift.”