Starbucks recently announced a tuition subsidy program to help employees complete their undergraduate degree. Fantastic news for those just starting out, but what if you already have a degree and you’re looking to advance your career, or move into a different field? The mistake that many people make is in believing that they have to choose between their job and continuing their education or skill development. If you find yourself in that position, here are five things to consider before making your decision:
Career Goals: If you’re thinking about an advanced degree, certification or diploma, then you obviously have some career goals. The real question is whether you require additional training to begin moving toward those goals. Professions that are regulated by laws and licenses (e.g. physiotherapy, accounting, real estate…) will require you to have completed your courses and passed examinations in order to register with the professional body that allows you to enter your field. If you’re not in one of those professions, then you may be able to get started while your training is in progress. Do your research, and set up some informational interviews to get the hard facts on the minimum educational qualifications you need to take your next steps. In some cases, merely taking courses toward a degree or diploma is enough to show employers that you are serious about your direction when combined with relevant experience.
Professional Development Funding: Does your employer have a tuition subsidy program or funding for professional development? More and more companies are setting aside money for their employees’ growth and development. Find out what benefits are available to you, and what conditions are attached to accessing them. If you propose a solid plan of action, and clearly lay out the benefits to your current employer, then you stand a better chance of receiving their financial support. You’ll also increase your standing with the organization by showing them that you are committed to developing additional skills and knowledge that will benefit their goals. It’s a win-win.
Stay or Go?: Depending on the program that you’re considering, you may have some concerns about whether you can balance work and study at the same time. Before you give up your day job, have a chat with your supervisor about what arrangements you can make. Do you need to attend certain classes or labs in person? Will that happen every semester, or is it only for one course? Would you be better able to balance everything with a flexible schedule or by telecommuting on certain days? Quitting is final, so don’t give up your paycheck before you explore options with your current organization. Come prepared to offer up a series of potential solutions, rather than just laying out the problem.
Time: If you opt to complete your continuing education part-time, how long will it take you to complete? Depending on your current employment situation, and the hiring projections for the field you plan to pursue, you’ll want to make sure that you aren’t missing a hiring boom by taking the part-time route. Talk to the institution providing the training to find out how long it would take you to complete the program. If you’re staying within the profession or field you are currently in, you might also want to explore options for a leave of absence from your current employer. That’s not the same as quitting, but it would mean that you’d need to have a solid assessment of your financials and a chat with HR to see how your benefits package would play out. If you are in a hurry to complete your program, for whatever reason, a leave might be a good compromise for you and the organization.
Self-Study: Perhaps you’re excited to get started with your development, but you don’t necessarily have the time or money to invest in your continued education. Not a problem! Start by building your knowledge. Check out the thought leaders for your field and see if they have blogs, books or podcasts. You might even luck out with a keynote address or two on YouTube that you can access. Start incorporating the knowledge you gain into your work. If you’re trying to switch fields (a lateral career move or maybe an entire transition) then you might want to look for some volunteer opportunities, organizations, or boards that you can get involved with to put that new knowledge into practice. You might not be adding any new letters after your name, but make no mistake – informal study can help you just as much as a formal program as long as people are aware of your activities.
Whatever path you choose, make it deliberate. Pursuing higher education with the hope that it will help you advance your career isn’t necessarily the best move. You’re considering making a significant investment in your career in time and money, so invest smartly.
How do you incorporate professional development in your career? Share your strategies in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org.