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Not surprisingly, the potential for prosperity in training is greatest in segments where growth is already taking place, and where the most growth is anticipated.

At the turn of the millennium, technology had the feel of a gold rush, as thousands upon thousands rushed to stake a claim. But some of the bitterest fool’s gold turned out the be in the IT training industry, where schools opened and closed within months, worker supply quickly exceeded demand, and certifications that were priceless one day were barely worth the paper they were printed on the next.

The fallout from the tech bust was severe, but IT training is regaining its bearings–partly because IT itself has become so integrated in all sizes and categories of business, something that wasn’t the case in 1999.

“IT has become as much a part of the organization as the Accounting and HR functions,” says William Vanderbilt, director of Technology Learning Group for the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). “So to the extent that business expands, IT expands. At one point, IT was driven by IT organizations and those pushing IT products and services. However, with IT now being mainstream in organizations, general business drivers dictate the expansion or contraction of the IT industry.”

So without sounding Pollyannalike about it, training is back. Our purpose here isn’t to steer you toward specific training tracks; we’ll let you do that fine-tuning on your own. We want instead to come up with a macro-picture of some training categories that are likely to gain and maintain momentum.

Not surprisingly, the potential for prosperity in training is greatest in segments where growth is already taking place, and where the most growth is anticipated. And at the moment, two of those segments are security and project management. That’s just not our opinion, either: In a new CompTIA state-of-the-industry report, those were two areas rated most highly in terms of both need and opportunity.

Security blanket

Even prior to 9/11, security was starting to blossom as a great training category, and three years later, it’s still on the rise. A security certification can be one of the most inexpensive, versatile, and lucrative certs you can pick up. Even established IT pros–programmers, network engineers, site administrators, analysts–can find their resumes bolstered by an aptitude with firewalls, VPNs, computer forensics, or disaster recovery.

“Many of the vendor-neutral security training certifications such as CompTIA’s Security+, and SCP will be very hot, as will Cisco and Microsoft’s Security certifications,” says Rory Fisher, vice president of Arlington, Va.-based trainer KEI Pearson. “As hackers and cyber terrorists become smarter, both the government and the private sector will see these certifications as critical to their survival. There are also Federal government mandates for gaining security certifications that will be in place by 2005.”

Those mandates, called for by the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), only reflect the public-sector demand for qualified IT security personnel, and only at the federal level. Private companies will quickly follow suit if federal initiatives prove effective.

“More and more organizations are recognizing that they have technical issues to address in these areas,” says Vanderbilt. “This means there are substantial employee productivity and training opportunities, as well as certification needs to demonstrate competence.”

Thanks, I’ll manage

These days, no business of any appreciable size can function without an IT project manager, either outsourced or onsite. And the truth is, before you even consider getting certified as one, you should make sure you have the many soft skills–including skills in team leadership, client management, and attention to detail–necessary to be a good project manager. In other words, the sociophobic tech geek needs not apply.

But the nice thing about project management certification is that it’s not IT-specific. Employers are looking for managers who are flexible and creative along with being possessed of computer chops. A project-management cert tells HR personnel that you’re a big-picture person, and that whatever the project, you’re able to steer it from the first brainstorming sessions to the post-completion happy hour.

Project management, unlike security, is a category in which two prominent certifications rule the roost: The Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP) and CompTIA’s IT Project+. The PMP is practically money in the bank because of its history (it’s been offered since 1984) and its elusiveness–it calls for education and experience requirements that are well beyond most prospective test-takers. Meanwhile, IT Project+ is more of an entry-level PM cert, calling for about half the PM experience required for a PMP.

“IT Project+ is a certification designed for professionals working in the IT field, but not just IT workers,” Vanderbilt says. “The idea is that people need an understanding of project management to do effective IT work.”

To the next level

We’ve singled out security and project management as only two of several training categories that are on the upswing. Other segments showing great potential include Linux (see “All hail the penguin” elsewhere in this issue); WLAN and WiFi; Web design and development; database administration; and desktop support, such as Microsoft’s Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician cert. Meanwhile, as always, any certification from Microsoft or Cisco is worth at least looking into.

You want to be ready when employers get over their post-recession jitters: Some evidence suggests that the work is out there waiting, but employers are slow to hire. A survey conducted recently by software maker NewScale found that 43 percent of workers polled said that their companies’ poor IT services impacted their ability to work effectively.

“Technical certifications can be very helpful to people outside of the technical IT fields, says Vanderbilt. “Sales people who can talk intelligently with customers are in greater demand in a society that requires sales efforts to be consultative and sales people to be knowledgeable about their products and their customers.”

There are gaps to be filled, not just with tech companies, but in businesses of every stripe. So what are you waiting for? Pursuing the right certification now could be just the boost your résumé is searching for.

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