anandaBGD / iStock

For Government Tech Workers, Certification Pays Off in Higher Salaries

This chart shows the average compensation for the top 10 IT certifications for cleared and certified professionals today.

Education degrees, skills, and experience all make up the secret sauce of a successful career. Particularly for government positions, there are often specific requirements for each of those things at every step of the career ladder. For government employees and contractors alike, a position comes often not just with a job description, but with certain educational or certification requirements. With the push for qualified and competent IT professionals—particularly in the wake of persistent ransomware and other cyber attacks—many agencies and organizations find they’re not just looking at skill sets, but certifications required for the position.

In the 2021 Security Clearance Compensation Report, 49% of respondents said they had at least one certification, signifying the growing trend of a cleared and certified workforce. Average total compensation for those who selected at least one certification was $110,857, and average compensation for uncertified respondents was $96,177. That’s a difference of $14,680.

“There has been a long standing argument that experience trumps certifications, and I think for most positions, that argument is true,” said Greg Stuart, owner and editor of and a ClearanceJobs contributor. “However in the cleared space, IT certifications are a must to meet the requirements for specific contracts. In the case of contracts that require DoD 8570, now 8140 compliance, experience alone doesn’t cut it.”

IT certification requirements only increase in demand with the rollout of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), the new standard for security across the Defense Department. CMMC went into effect as an interim rule in November 2020 and is expected to be included in all defense contracts by 2026. Companies will have to be certified in order to bid on those contracts, and similar cybersecurity frameworks could roll out to other organizations and agencies. With the increased demand for cybersecurity professionals, demand for certifications will likely continue to rise. And along with demand, comes the compensation companies and agencies are willing to pay.

Here are the Top 10 IT certifications by compensation for cleared and certified professionals today, from the 2021 Security ClearanceJobs Compensation Report:

The top-paying certifications are a mix of cloud and security certifications, as well as a mix of standards like the Program Management Professional (PMP) certification. With the announcement that the JEDI contract is going away and headed toward a multi-vendor solution, we could see demand for a variety of cloud certifications, as contractors and agencies push to have certified professionals who can work on a variety of cloud solutions, not just within a single environment. 

The push for certifications began with DoD 8570 in 2005 and was replaced by DoD 8140 in 2015. CMMC creates a much more holistic framework for establishing cybersecurity requirements, but the demand for a workforce that’s cleared and certified continues. A number of employers will pay for their employees to obtain coveted certifications, and sometimes offer bonuses and incentives once they’re achieved.

“The pace of technology advancement requires companies to stay relevant by offering continual opportunities for employee skills development and demonstrating achievement through high-level certifications,” said Peder Jungck, vice president and general manager of BAE Systems Intelligence Solutions business. He notes that BAE Systems will pay up to a $10,000 bonus to employees who receive certain high-level certifications. 

For individuals who are just entering government service or contracting, the big question remains: Which is more important, a traditional four-year degree, or certifications?

“My honest opinion is both,” said Joe Jabara, director of the Hub for Cyber Education and Awareness at  Wichita State University. “If you have a degree and no certifications, your resume could lack validity of aptitude, because the employer has no real way of knowing what you were taught in your courses.”