While IT products come and go, often in a matter of months, industry professionals today continue to rely on CompTIA A+ as an ideal entry point to an IT career, or as a stepping-stone to advancement and promotion. The fact that this year is the 20th year this vendor-neutral certifi cation has been available, and that it continues to remain one of the best certifi cations of its kind, proves that CompTIA A+ remains on the cutting edge of technology.
According to Loraine Vorster, Vice President for Africa, Australia and New Zealand at CompTIA, the CompTIA A+ certifi cation was born in the US in the early 90s out of an industry requirement for vendor-neutral credentials for IT technicians. She says CompTIA works with industry subject matter experts to develop certifi cations that are fresh and relevant to the technologies organisations are utilising today. In recent years, CompTIA has branched out from PC repairs and networking to more advanced skills such as security, storage, cloud computing, project management and mobility.
"CompTIA focuses on providing relevant skills for the global IT workforce, meaning that we will bring together training providers, academic institutions, and IT organisations and employers, with the aim of creating quality education, training and certifi cation based on industry standards. CompTIA certifi cations are created and dictated by the industry itself. We see ourselves as merely custodians of the exams, in order to ensure the validity of the certifi cation."
While training is co-ordinated through training provider partners, Vorster points out that CompTIA accredits these institutions. She adds that CompTIA also consults with employers, providing them with a free skills assessment – using the CompTIA certifi cations as a benchmark – to ascertain a potential skills gap against job roles.
"CompTIA is a global organisation, headquartered in the US. The South African offi ce was the fi rst international branch of CompTIA. The organisation had an agent working in the country from 2000. Well-known local IT personality, Adrian Schofi eld, did a fantastic job of putting CompTIA on the map here in SA. I took over when the CompTIA offi ce was officially launched 10 years ago, in 2003," she says.
"When we started off, CompTIA in SA operated much like an industry association, but the focus slowly changed as we began building up our training community. In the early days, we were effectively acting as training evangelists, approaching corporations and encouraging them to train and certify their technical staff."
Vorster suggests that CompTIA was helped in this regard by the fact that there were a number of major companies that were early pioneers in adopting the CompTIA A+ and Network+ certifi cations. She says Nashua, NRG Gestetner (now Ricoh), Toshiba, CSX, Canon, Konica- Minolta, ITEC, AST (now Gijima), Mustek, Sharp Electronics, Advocate Solutions, Kyocera Mita, IBM and HP were all early adopters.
"We also put a lot of effort in with our training community, and specifi c partners like Boston City Campus and Business College, Torque IT, CTU Training Solutions and Bytes People Solutions helped us grow in this space. Even today these partners have platinum status in our CompTIA Authorised Partner Programme (CAPP)."
Another major reason for CompTIA's growth in the market was due to the launch of the CompTIA Gold Partner programme. This initiative, created by Vorster herself, recognises training partners that excel in the area of skills development.
"The Gold Partner programme was pioneered here in SA and was so successful that it was used as the basis for the new global CompTIA Authorised Partner Programme," she states.
Vorster suggests that up until around two years ago, CompTIA's business, and thus its focus, was mainly on South Africa, even though the offi ce looks after the entire Sub-Sahara Africa region. However, she says, the organisation is now focusing more heavily on certain countries in Africa, specifi cally Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Botswana, Namibia and Mauritius.
"We now have agents acting on behalf of CompTIA in these countries. These agents are local people, so they understand the local markets and their needs. Having local agents has certainly resulted in enormous growth for our business in Africa – around 25% of our business now comes from these markets, where just two years ago, they only contributed 5%."
Obviously, she points out, there is still a lot of work to do in these markets, since many countries in Africa are faced with the same challenges. These include a lack of funding, infrastructure and effective bandwidth, to name a few. Of course, she adds, CompTIA is growing its base of partners in these nations, and they are slowly overcoming these challenges.
"What is really exciting is that from January of this year, our region was further expanded to include Australia and New Zealand. We are running a similar agent model in these two countries, but with South Africa operating as the 'head offi ce' for the region."
Vorster says she is proud that CompTIA South Africa has been tasked to manage a bigger region. She points out that since being put on the map by Adrian Schofi eld, CompTIA SA has grown to be the second biggest international offi ce. "My goal – thanks to the inclusion of Australia and New Zealand in our region – is to build up this offi ce to the point where we can claim the mantle of being the biggest international offi ce." Vorster holds very strong views around the role of women in the ICT industry. She explains that CompTIA has hosted a 'Women in ICT' forum for a number of years, looking at how to improve the disparities between males and females in this sector. She adds there remain huge discrepancies in the salaries paid to men and women performing the same job. Furthermore, the typical positions occupied by women in the ICT industry continue to be more training and HR-related, rather than technical.
"At CompTIA, we are making a concerted effort to encourage young women to launch technically-oriented careers; while we have seen an increase in the number of females entering this side of the industry, less than 20% of all technical positions are held by women.
"Through the forum, we are now starting a mentor programme, where women who have already established themselves in the sector can assist inexperienced entrants to understand what it is like to work in a male-dominated environment. By sharing the lessons they have learned, we hope to make entry into this sector easier for the new generation of women coming into ICT," says Vorster.
"What we need are more forwardthinking organisations that will encourage women to come into these areas, perhaps even by making it a part of their hiring policies."
So, what sets a CompTIA certifi cation apart from other certifi cations? Vorster thinks it is the fact that CompTIA's certifi cations are developed by the industry for the industry. CompTIA certifi cations are not related to any vendors or products, but focus on providing a skill in a specifi c area. The certifi cations are relevant and current, mapped to job roles.
In addition, CompTIA's preferred training partners offer good preparation for those seeking to obtain a CompTIA certifi cation. A combination of using authorised courseware and a qualifi ed trainer – who is qualifi ed in the subject matter content as well as being able to train, and follows on by ensuring there is also practical exposure in the classroom. By providing a practical component to the course, CompTIA ensures the learners who graduate will have had hands-on technical experience.
"But, I think what ultimately sets a CompTIA certifi cation apart is the industry recognition. Employers, governments, educational institutions across the globe endorse, require and mandate the CompTIA certifi cations as part of their curriculum, the skill needed to bring new entrants into the ICT industry, or the credentials required to get the job, but also to retain a job. It is this that sets us apart from the rest," concludes Vorster.
Contact details: Web: www.comptia.org