2019's highest-paying IT certifications

We take a look at the most lucrative certifications and assess what difference these will make to your CV

In a competitive talent market, such as IT, obtaining a certification is a sure way to verify your expertise, demonstrate your knowledge quickly to others, and ultimately make job hunting a far smoother process. Recruiters look for credentials to back up details provided on an applicant's CV and many companies request certain types of certification in order for an applicant to even be considered for a role.

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According to training provider Global Knowledge, 89% of the global IT industry is certified. It recently published its list of the 15 top paying IT certifications in 2019, showing that employers are focusing on specific areas, in particular, cloud computing, cyber security, networking and project management. In fact, cloud and project management dominated the top five spots.

Global Knowledge 2019 report:

Although the figures provided represent a look at the US market, we can see that Google's own Cloud Architect certification is now the best qualification to pursue in terms of average salary, closely followed by qualifications in project management and then development roles for AWS.

"The two leading areas are cyber security and cloud computing, followed by virtualisation, network and wireless LANs," notes Zane Schweer, Global Knowledge's director of marketing communications. "Up and coming certifications focus on AI, cognitive computing, machine learning, IoT, mobility and end-point management."

Cloud comes out on top

"Cloud computing is paramount to every aspect of modern business," explains Deshini Newman, managing director EMEA of non-profit organisations (ISC)2. "It's reflective of the highly agile and cost-effective way that businesses need to work now, and so skilled professionals need to demonstrate that they are proficient in the same platforms, methodologies and approaches towards development, maintenance, detection and implementation."

Jisc, a non-profit which specialises in further and higher education technology solutions, has joined many other organisations in adopting a cloud-first approach to IT, and so relies heavily on services like Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure.

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"Certified training in either or both of these services is important for a variety of roles," explains Peter Kent, head of IT governance and communications at Jisc, "either to give the detailed technical know-how to operate them or simply to demonstrate an understanding of how they fit into our infrastructure landscape."

"Accompanying these, related networking and server certifications such as Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MSCE) are important as many cloud infrastructures still need to work with remaining or hybrid on-premise infrastructures," he notes.

Security certifications are also high on the most-wanted list, but they are required across a variety of different platforms and disciplines. One of the growth areas (ISC)2 has seen is in cybersecurity certifications in relation to the cloud. "This is something that is reflected by the positioning of the cloud within the Global Knowledge top 15," Newman points out.

Aside from technical training, ITIL is still considered a key certification as a way of benchmarking an individual's understanding of the infrastructure and process framework that IT teams have in place.

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"But with ITIL v4 just around the corner I'd recommend holding off any training until v4 courses are widely available," advises Kent.

And it's not just about the accreditation - it can often also be about the company behind the certification itself. This is part of what makes the most desirable certifications desirable - the credibility and support of the issuing bodies.

The benefits of certification

Global Knowledge's report highlighted that businesses believe that having certified IT professionals on staff offer a number of benefits - most importantly helping them meet client requirements, close skills gaps and solve technical issues more quickly.

This is great for the company, but what do you gain as an individual? Well, aside from being in higher demand and the ability to perform a job faster, the main answer is a larger paycheque.

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"In North America, it's roughly a 15% increase in salary, while in EMEA its 3%," says Schweer. "We attribute cost of living and other unique circumstances within each country to the difference," he notes.

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Research by (ISC)2 and recruitment firm Mason Frank International also showed similar results.

"In our latest Salesforce salary survey 39% of respondents indicated that their salary had increased since becoming certified and those holding certifications at the rarer end of the spectrum are more likely to benefit from a pay increase," says director Andy Mason.

"While the exact amount of money an individual can earn will fluctuate from sector to sector, it is clear that certifications in any sector can and do make a big financial difference," agrees Newman. "That's on top of setting individuals apart at the top of their profession."

Does certification create an 'opportunity shortage'?

However, not everyone regards certifications as the be-all-and-end-all for recruiting the best possible staff. Some, such as Mango Solutions' head of data engineering, Mark Sellors, actually believe that it can often 'lock-out' certain candidates that might be perfect for a role.

"This can be troubling for a number of reasons," he says. "In many cases certifications are worked out in an individual's personal time. This means those with significant responsibilities outside of their existing job may not be in a position to do additional study, and that's not to mention the cost of some of these certs."

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He adds that using certifications as a bar above which one must reach can also further reduce gender diversity within the IT space, as a past study by Hewlett Packard found that women are much less likely than men to apply for a job if they don't meet all of the listed entry requirements.

It's Sellors' belief that the problem facing many hiring managers is not just a talent one, but rather a one of opportunity.

"They're not giving great candidates the opportunity to excel in these roles as they've latched on to the idea that talent can be proven with a certificate," explains Sellors. "Certifications can be useful in certain circumstances - for example when trying to prove a certain degree of knowledge during a career switch, or moving from one technical area to another. They're also a great way to quickly ramp up knowledge when your existing role shifts in a new direction.

"More often than not, however, they prove little beyond the candidate's ability to cram for an exam. Deep technical knowledge comes from experience and there's sadly no shortcut for that."

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