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Sidebar: A Better Way?

By Mary K. Pratt
September 5, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - William Butler deviated from the standard teaching material when he taught A+ and N+ certification courses a few years ago to students studying desktop configuration and networking.
Butler, an IT technician with the Gilmer Independent School District, says he threw "kinks" into the usual course work. He wanted his students to learn to apply book-based knowledge to real work situations -- something he says standard courses often fail to teach.
He's not alone in his belief. Other IT leaders also say certification courses don't always teach students to apply their knowledge to everyday IT problems. They say the process needs to be strengthened if certifications are to retain their value.
"I would love to see certification demonstrate that performing well on the exams correlates to one's success in using that tool. I don't think they have done that," says Jerry Luftman, associate dean of graduate IT programs at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Butler goes even further. He suggests an overhaul that would apply old-fashioned learning methods to high-tech jobs. "Have an individual apprentice, much the way that licensed electricians do," he says. "At the end of the apprenticeship, they'll receive their certification."
A new certification moves in that direction. The Open Group LLC, a technology consortium in San Francisco, recently started a certification program that defines a set of standards for measuring the skills and experience of IT architects . "The thrust of our program is experience," says Graham Bird, vice president of marketing at The Open Group. "What candidates have to demonstrate for this certification is all about doing the job."
Bird says there's a need to separate architects with proven track records from job seekers padding their resumes. The new certification would let employers quickly know a candidate's qualifications, he says.
To earn this certification, applicants will have to go before a board of their peers to prove their skills. "It's not a 'Can I take an hour exam?' type [of] exercise," Bird says. "This program is intended to capitalize on the value of experience."

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