Tech workers are less likely to explore other job opportunities when their current employer covers the cost of their training and certification, according to a new global study that found cloud computing, cyber security, and networking to be the most common certifications.

Although 83 per cent of respondents who paid for their own training said they were interested in exploring new job opportunities, Pearson VUE’s 2023 Value of IT Certification Candidate Report found, that dropped to 75 per cent among candidates whose employers paid for their training.

“Employers who invest in training and certification of their IT staff are more likely to retain them,” the firm found, noting a similar decline – from 88 per cent of candidates to 77 per cent – among those whose employers paid for them to study for and sit certification exams.

Employers had become more willing to cover training and exam fees during the disruption of the pandemic years, the study found, in identifying hybrid and remote work, e-commerce, and automation of work processes as key trends that gained momentum during the pandemic and are, the firm noted, “no longer trends but new realities”.

Managers seemed to be getting the message, with 59 per cent of respondents to the report – which canvassed over 21,000 IT professionals in 176 countries – saying their employers had invested more in IT skills training during the previous 12 months than in the previous year.

Younger workers were embracing credentials faster than their older counterparts, with 42 per cent of Gen Z respondents considering certification – compared with 15 per cent of millennials and just 7 per cent of Baby Boomers.

Those completing certifications felt their new skills had made them more valuable employees – with 81 per cent saying they felt they were producing higher quality work after completing certification, 77 per cent feeling better able to innovate, 74 per cent reporting feeling they had greater work autonomy and independence, and 72 per cent feeling more efficient and productive.

“Employers are supporting employee upskilling efforts,” the report notes, “and as a result, seeing higher quality work outputs and improving employee retention rates.”

Certifications earn more

There was also a strong correlation between completing technical certifications and receiving a pay rise, with 37 per cent saying their new credentials had led to a salary or wage increase – up from 28 per cent in 2020.

For many tech specialists, those increases came immediately – with 12 per cent of workers saying they had received a pay rise as soon as they completed their certification, and 15 per cent saying their pay had increased within a month.

By six months after completing a technical certification, an additional 56 per cent of respondents said they had received pay rises – confirming that employers commonly see new skills, particularly in in-demand areas, as delivering enough value that employees are all but guaranteed a wage rise.

Not only did most candidates see pay rises, but employers – particularly in the face of last year’s transformative ‘Great Resignation’ – were more generous than ever before.

Of those who received a pay rise, 35 per cent said their pay had increased by 30 per cent or more after completing certifications last year – up from a 28 per cent increase in 2020, and just 20 per cent in 2018.

“It is clear that certification enabled the acquisition of new skills, qualifying candidates for better and more rewarding jobs,” Pearson VUE managing director Dr Gary Gates said in announcing the new findings.

“Respondents… believe that certification not only increases mobility for them as employees, but also increases profitability for the companies that they work for.”

“By gaining certifications, candidates are well placed to better their current work conditions or enhance their prospects when exploring new job opportunities.”

Supporting the new normal

Whether the surge in salaries is a new long-term trend or an artefact of a now-finished hiring trend – last year, tech companies laid off over 70,000 employees globally, creating both stress for employees and opportunities for employers – remains to be seen.

By all accounts, many tech companies seem to have over-recruited during the pandemic, feeding skilled staff into an ever-hungrier pipeline of work as they drove massive digital transformation agendas.

Despite an overall slowdown in global IT spending, however, recent Gartner projections pegged growth in Australia’s IT spending at 5.8 per cent this year – more than double the 2.4 per cent global rate.

That expenditure will be led by software, with development and implementation teams expected to be dealing with a 10.9 per cent increase in spending – highlighting continued demand for the types of technical roles where certifications are particularly relevant and valued.

The new figures not only confirm that obtaining in-demand certifications is not only a licence to print money for candidates, but a retention tool for employers whose digital change agenda became more complex during the pandemic – and remains that way as businesses continue to transform.

“We had no doubt that the trends emerging from the pandemic would have far-reaching and lasting implications on the workplace and certification,” Gates said.

“What has become evident is that remote working and learning is here to stay, and with that the demand for the necessary skills and certifications that will support this new way of working and learning…. Now more than ever, employers are desperate to fill crucial skills gaps with certified candidates.”