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March 10, 2014

A+ certification sets standard for IT industry

Since its introduction in 1993, CompTIA A+ certification has become a recognized standard within the IT industry – a sign that recipients have demonstrated the technical knowledge and skills necessary to pursue a career in IT.

“It is a very well known certification,” says Carol Balkcom, director of product management at CompTIA, who oversees A+. “I won’t say that no employer will hire at the entry level without A+ certification, but many employers look for A+ certification to help differentiate candidates applying for jobs. It definitely is pervasive on job boards.”

The extent to which A+ certification has become an industry standard is reflected in the fact that several major brands – including Dell, HP and Lenovo – require that channel technicians have it in order to service their specific products. And educational institutions ranging from high schools to technical jobs programs to community colleges have incorporated A+ instruction into their curricula.

“A+ is where many educational programs start,” Balkcom said.

Since the launch of A+ certification in 1993, the technical landscape has changed drastically. In that time consumers and businesses have seen the wide adoption of laptops, cell phones, tablets, smartphones and mobile applications. Approximately 62 percent of companies have established “bring your own device” policies. The implication for IT support workers is increased demand on their services – more people needing more help with more devices.

A+ certification shows potential employers that job candidates have fundamental knowledge in hardware, software, operating systems, troubleshooting, repair, networking, mobility, security and operational procedures.

“A+ has evolved to meet the latest needs and challenges facing the IT workforce,” Balkcom said. “In fact, we revise the A+ exams every three years precisely because technology changes so quickly. And in order to equip aspiring IT professionals with the technical knowledge and skills they need today – as opposed to five years ago – the exam must including training on devices they find in today’s work environments.”

In order to help ensure that A+ certification exams continue to reflect current knowledge and technology, CompTIA involves leaders from the IT industry to serve on an advisory committee that provides a market perspective prior to exam development, Balkcom added.

But one critical aspect of A+ certification that likely will never change is the inclusion of softer professional skills – providing excellent customer service and communicating in thoughtful, respectful ways, she said.

“We hear over and over again how important it is for people to get training in customer service skills because so many end up working directly with customers – either on a phone in a help desk capacity, or with customers face to face,” she said. “Having the soft skills is critically important.”

Rick Butler, a supervisor in the computer technology program at IntelliTec College in Colorado Springs, agreed.

“Technicians are required not only to be able to manage the technology, but the 18-inch space between the user and the technology,” he said.

The two A+ certification exams are rigorous, Balkcom said, and include “performance based” questions in simulated environments that require test takers to demonstrate hands-on skills.

“Without that hands-on training – received either through a student’s own initiative or through a classroom-like lab – it is difficult to pass these exams,” she said. “Because it is a rigorous set of exams, A+ certification means something in the marketplace. Recipients can feel proud about becoming certified and know that they have achieved a certain level of technical competence as a result.”

Finally, in addition to helping a candidate land a job – or a promotion – A+ certification can deliver real value in the form of higher salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for computer support specialists is $53,230. By contrast, the average salary of an A+ certified professional is $73,956, according to CompTIA.