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Want To Keep Your Job Safe? Beef Up Your Soft Skills

Certification that shows understanding of communications, leadership, and project management is getting people ahead.

Want to help keep your job safe from outsourcing? There's no surefire way, but turning yourself into a package deal is a start. Employers are looking for well-rounded IT pros -- people with training that goes beyond just tech certifications, says Elizabeth Holloran, program manager at SkillSoft, which offers IT and business-related e-learning courses. Most in demand are "certification combos" that show an understanding of business, technology, and soft skills such as communication, leadership, and project management.

Certifications are sometimes perceived as a dime a dozen, because the value of tech-specific training lasts only as long as the specific technology is hot. Training, such as project management, that combines technology, soft skills, and business acumen lasts much longer, Holloran says. Among the most popular certifications being sought this year by SkillSoft's 3,000 customers are Six Sigma and project management, both of which cover a range of soft skill training.

chart: The Certification Difference
The Computing Technology Industry Association, which develops exams for a variety of vendor-neutral certifications, also is seeing strong demand for project skills among its membership. Its CompTIA Project+ certification, a general project management certification that helps IT professionals understand the fundamentals of handling projects, is among its most popular.

These certifications can help job candidates stand out, says Neill Hopkins, CompTIA's VP of skills development. "Experience is hard to validate," he says, so "employers look for certifications as proof of knowledge." That's particularly true for entry-level people. The certifications help flesh out the resumé and knowledge base of recent computer science grads seeking work, Hopkins says.

The Society of Information Management sees a similar trend among its CIO and tech executive members. Project planning, functional-area process knowledge, and company-specific knowledge were the top three skill sets they identified last year as mostly likely to be kept in-house at their companies for the next few years. Nothing can protect you from outsourcing or offshoring because economic factors come into play in making those decisions, says Stephen Pickett, chairman of the SIM Foundation and past president of the organization. But if you have the right skills -- including leadership, teamwork, relationship management abilities -- that's what can help you transition into new roles, he says.

PAY ADVANTAGE
Besides improving job security, project management certification also can boost salaries. Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute positively influences pay at all levels of experience, according to data from PayScale, a provider of online, global compensation data. IT pros with less than five years of project management experience get the biggest increase from certification, averaging 11% more in annual salary compared with uncertified peers. Certification hiked the pay of IT pros with five to 20 years of experience between 4% and 6%, PayScale says. Years of experience are assumed to be as relevant as a certification, so the longer a person is in a job, the less the certification matters, says Al Lee, PayScale's director of quantitative analysis. But until you have those years built up, certification is a good approach.

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