How can organizations and vendors change their certification programs to test for skills as well as core knowledge? What issues might this introduce?

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When Certification Is Justified

When Certification Is Justified

When Don Tennant, former editor-in-chief of Computerworld, published an editorial in favor of IT

certification, he was promptly hit with a barrage of angry responses from IT workers.66 They

argued that testable IT knowledge does not necessarily translate into quality IT work. A worker

needs good communication and problem-solving skills as well as perseverance to get the job

done well. Respondents explained that hardworking IT workers focus on skills and knowledge

that are related to their current projects and don’t have time for certifications that will quickly

become obsolete. Many readers indicated they suspected that vendors offer certification simply

as a marketing ploy and a source of revenue. They accused managers without technical backgrounds

of using certification as “a crutch, a poor but politically defensible substitute for knowing

what and how well one’s subordinates are doing.”67

Any manager would certainly do well to review these insightful points, yet they beg the

question: What useful purposes can certification serve within an organization?

Some CIOs and vice presidents of technology assert that many employers use certification

as a means of training employees and increasing skill levels within the company. Some

companies are even using certification as a perk to attract and keep good employees. Such

companies may also enhance their employee training programs by offering a job-rotation

program through which workers can acquire certification and experience.

Employers are also making good use of certification as a hiring gate both for entry-level

positions and for jobs that require specific core knowledge. For example, a company with a

Windows Server network might run an ad for a systems integration engineer and require a

Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification. A company that uses Siebel customer

relationship management software might require a new hire to have a certification in the

latest version of Siebel. In addition, specific IT fields, such as project management and security, have a greater

need for certification. As the speed and complexity of production increase within the global

marketplace, workers in a variety of industries are showing an increasing interest in project

management certification. With mottos like “Do It, Do It Right, Do It Right Now,” the Project

Management Institute has already certified more than 400,000 people. IT industry employers are

beginning to encourage and sometimes require project management certification.

Calls for training in the field of security management go beyond certification. The demand

for security workers is expected to continue to grow rapidly in the next few years in the face of

growing threats. Spam, computer viruses, spyware, botnets, and identity theft have businesses

and government organizations worried. They want to make sure that their security managers

can protect their data, systems, and resources.

One of the best-recognized security certifications is the CISSP, awarded by the International

Information Systems Security Certification Consortium. Yet the CISSP examination, like

so many other IT certification examinations, is multiple choice. Employers and IT workers alike

have begun to recognize the limitations of these types of examinations. They want to ensure

that examinees not only have core knowledge but also know how to use that knowledge—and a

multiple-choice exam, even a six-hour, 250-question exam like the CISSP, can’t provide that


Other organizations are catching on. Sun Microsystems requires the completion of programming

or design assignments for some of its certifications. So, while there is no universal

call for certification or a uniform examination procedure that answers all needs within the IT

profession, certifying bodies are beginning to adapt their programs to better fulfill the evolving

needs for certification in IT.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can organizations and vendors change their certification programs to test for skills as

well as core knowledge? What issues might this introduce?

  1. What are the primary arguments against certification, and how can certifying bodies change

their programs to overcome these shortcomings?

  1. What are the benefits of certification? How might certification programs need to change in

the future to better serve the needs of the IT community?


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