Sunday, September 2, 2012

Is SAP Certification Worth the Money?

By John Reed

This is a very hard question to answer, in part because money is relative. If you have plenty of cash stashed away, then you can never go wrong with an investment in SAP certification. But, few of us fit into that category. That means we need a clearer understanding of how SAP certification fits into our career strategy. SAP certification is full of controversy because of the contrast between the importance of certification versus hands-on SAP skills. In this blog entry, I’ll summarize some of my views on SAP certification and hopefully we can get some comments going on this topic also.

The SAP certification debate took on some new life not long ago in a blog post that Site Editor Demir Barlas posted that soon became alengthy discussion thread. I recommend you check out that thread to get a well-rounded view of the issue. In that particular case, the certification question was focused on the value of certification for so-called "freshers," or folks who are new to the SAP market. But of course SAP certification concerns all SAP professionals, whether you are new to the field or looking for an added edge in the market.
Certification was also a hot topic at Sapphire again this year, in part because of the desire on the part of the SAP community to understand SAP’s new three-tiered certification strategy. Some people like to frame the SAP certification issue in terms of whether SAP certification is a rip-off, and I have done that before myself. But I think the best way to look at SAP certification is to ask if it’s overrated or not. And the answer to that question is, "it depends." In terms of a "quick fix" to immediately break into SAP or change your SAP career fortunes, I think SAP certification is overrated. But in terms of a savvy way to enhance your marketability in a long-term sense, I think SAP certification may even be underrated.
Let me review a few of the key points I have said about SAP certification over the years.
Here are some highlights from the first comment I made to Demir’s entry about certification on
"I read this certification article and comments with great interest. I have served as the resident SAP career expert on since 2002, and I’ve been answering questions about the marketability of SAP certification since 1995.I continue to field continual questions on the value of training and certification both on and on my own web site,
Obviously from this blog, this topic remains a heated point of debate, as it should be. SAP training and certification is a significant investment for an individual SAP professional, and to this day, I feel that too many people dive headlong into that investment without weighing their options carefully. (Of course, some people are fortunate enough to get their training and/or certification paid for by their employers, in which case, it is more of a no-brainer to go ahead and do it).
There is obviously no one right answer to the question of the value of SAP certification. You can find examples of those who have had success with SAP certification and at the same time, you can find plenty of examples of those who invested in SAP certification and ultimately could not land an SAP job based on that certification. I’ve heard from those folks and they are not a happy group.
It’s helpful to understand how SAP certification fits into the supply and demand of the marketplace. Back in the 1990s, it was possible to land an SAP job with "certification only" because there weren’t enough experienced consultants, and "Big Six firms" on large project sites were able to field teams with plenty of junior-level consultants who did not have any hands-on SAP experience other than their classroom certifications.
The power of certification in the SAP market has changed largely because most of these "entry level" consulting positions on client sites are gone forever. Most SAP customers are sophisticated enough to expect more seasoned SAP pros with actual SAP project experience. And there are fewer "big bang" type implementations where companies just open the floodgates and hire hundreds of consultants regardless of experience level. As a result, even though the SAP consulting market is very healthy, the power of SAP certification to land that all-important first project has diminished over the years, and I don’t expect that power to return.
Before we go further with my comments, it’s helpful to understand that SAP has also been adding to its certification levels. The classic level of SAP certification is now called the "Associate" level. SAP is now rolling out the "Professional" level certification in many areas. This is a more rigorous certification program and as such, may eventually carry more weight in the marketplace, we will have to see. There is a third level of certification on the way also, called the "Master" level. It is rumored that this level will likely involve some measurement of project experience. If this comes to pass, I would not be surprised if this higher level of certification carries much more weight.
Certification is interesting from the vantage point of hype. Sometimes I have found that SAP hypes its own certification, but often, I find that it’s the job seekers themselves who latch onto certification and hype it for themselves. Demir is absolutely right in his post: many aspiring SAP professionals view certification as the easy (if expensive) way to open a door into the SAP field that is not always easy to open.
It’s hard to argue that SAP certification is an absolute waste of money and time. It all depends on how much money and time you have. But when we consider the value of certification, I think the biggest determining factor is: how many SAP jobs require certification? The answer is: only a small percentage. Project references are so much more important, as others commenting on this blog entry have noted. And even those jobs that require SAP certification also tend to require a number of years in the SAP field as well.

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