A report from researchers at Foote Partners reports that average pay for IT certifications dropped 2 percent in the three months ended October 1, which would translate into an annual drop of 8 per cent if the trend continues.

By comparison, pay for noncertified IT skills rose 1.4 per cent on average for the same period, and 9 to 13 per cent over the past year. Are certified IT jobs just becoming more of a commodity, facing stiffer offshore competition? Or as Foote Partners CEO David Foote suggests, have enterprise employers simply refocused their priorities on "niche," noncertified skills such as applications and Web or e-commerce development?

"Certifications are becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of the IT world," Foote exclaims.He adds: “Employers are desperate for IT professionals who can get things done. Technical skills are without a doubt critical for many IT jobs, but there's much more. Being a desirable 'impact' worker means getting along with people, keeping an eye on IT's role in business execution, and quickly delivering what customers want, which is a moving target."

But extreme or not, there's a certain logic to what Foote's trying to say. The IT labour market's like one big auction, and rather than bidding based on a single skill set, employers are starting to look more at bundles of skills, of which a certification may not be the most important feature. Foote Partners' data comes from an annual survey of 55,000 IT professionals in the U.S. and Canada and Foote suggests: "You may have system administrators with a Unix or Linux specialization working on critical customer-facing systems but you don't want to end up lumping them with, say, MVS administrators when it comes to salary benchmarking.

"It's the same thing with Advanced Business Application Programming and .Net developers, Java programmers, and Oracle DBAs who get thrown in with all the other developers, programmers, and DBAs paywise.

"At a high level, the implication for IT professionals just starting out would seem to be this: Try to become well-rounded; you can't just build up one competence and expect to ride it to retirement. You'll be perceived as too narrow and outsourceable. As environments and resources get virtualised, the managers holding the purse strings care less and less about what's under the hood and who tuned it up, than how fast the car can go and who's in the driver's seat.