What’s the Latest in Cisco Certification?

Even in the midst of the global economic contraction, IT has remained a growth sector. Buoyed by increasingly sophisticated network technology, the field is expanding most rapidly in the areas of network administration and engineering. Cisco, a leading provider of networking technology, is continually updating its certification programs to meet industry demand for internetworking, virtualization, network security, and Unified Communications experts.

Preparing for Tomorrow’s Networking Careers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks network systems analysts as the second fastest-growing occupation in the U.S., with 53.4 percent job growth predicted from 2008 to 2018.

Despite the generous pay and robust growth, demand still outpaces the supply of qualified networking experts. Fred Weiller, director of marketing for Learning@Cisco, sees a “talent gap between business needs and people with the right skills.”

Even as the media reports on job scarcity, he regularly talks to hiring managers who can’t find enough qualified applicants for jobs. Weiller notes the “ubiquitous nature of networks” in the corporate and public spheres, and in turn the growing need for administrator to deploy and operate them. The trend toward distributed computing, meanwhile, should increase the need for network management experts.

The Role of IT Training and Certification

Cisco certification plays a central role in connecting trained network professionals and hiring managers. IT certifications in general confer a competitive advantage in the job market. According to the consulting firm IDC, 66 percent of managers believe that IT certifications improve the overall level of service and support offered to end users, and three out of four say certifications are vital to team performance. In addition, Weiller cites a 2009 PayScale figure demonstrating a standard salary premium of 10 to 20 percent upon certification.

New Developments in Cisco Certification

Cisco training and certification enables network professionals to demonstrate mastery of current Cisco products and solutions. In the past four years, the Cisco Career Certification Program has updated its certifications to meet market demand. Changes include:

  • New CCAr (Cisco Certified Architect) certification, the highest level of Cisco certification available.
  • Revised CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) training and certification.
  • New Service Provider Operations track.

In addition, Cisco revamped the entire certification program, shifting the focus from product- and technology-centric competency standards to role-centric standards. Today’s Cisco certifications are “designed to do a job,” Weiller says. The new programs were developed by identifying people currently working in a specific area of network management or design and conducting a job task analysis.

This role-based approach “differentiates Cisco certifications from other certifications in the IT space,” says Weiller. Together with the requirement that IT professionals recertify every two to three years, the real-world focus ensures that Cisco certifications “hold and keep a high value… guaranteeing that people bring up-to-date skills and keep pace with the industry.”

Cisco Training and Certification: Today and Tomorrow

The evolution in Cisco certification programs reflects industry demand for more advanced professionals trained in high-demand areas such as security and network integration.

Certification level. Expert-level certifications are currently commanding the most interest among hiring managers, explains Weiller: “The CCIE and CCDE are sought after to the point that agents have set themselves up to negotiate employment for them.” The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert and Design Expert qualifications validate Cisco network engineering and infrastructure design mastery.

Expertise. Routing and switching, the traditional foundation of Cisco certifications, still boasts the largest number of certified professionals and sustained demand from hiring managers. But Weiller notes growth in newer areas such as unified communications and security. Security and risk certifications have risen sharply, as a proliferation of devices, applications, and networking connections increase the vulnerability of corporate data. In a recent survey by Illuminas, 64 percent of CCIEs (Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts) identified security and risk management among “the networking skills in greatest demand.”

An Overview of Cisco Certifications

Cisco certifies network professionals from the associate to expert level, with programs spanning an array of specializations.

Entry-Level and Associate certifications certify expertise at the foundation level of networking certification.

  • CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician)
  • CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), with Cisco training programs in Voice, Wireless, Security, and Service Provider Operations.
  • CCDA (Cisco Certified Design Associate)

Professional certifications are suitable for more advanced network professionals with some job experience.

Expert and Architect certifications represent the highest level of accreditation available in the Cisco Career Certification Program.

Cisco certification prepares IT professionals to compete for jobs in the high-growth networking sector. The entry-level CCNA certification, for example, can lead to an $87,790-a-year job as a Cisco Certified Network Associate (Certification Magazine, 2009 Salary Survey). Cisco training is available at community colleges, universities, and vocational training institutes nationwide, in partnership with the Cisco Networking Academy.

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