The decision on whether or not to go back to school to upgrade your skills (whether you are talking about a graduate degree, a diploma, or a certificate program of some kind) often hinges on the financial viability of it. Not only do you usually have to deal with the time away from your job, but there are also the upfront and hidden costs associated with education such as tuition, books, parking expenses, and the 101 fees that post-secondary institutions make liberal use of (I once paid a field trip fee in a faculty that never want on a field trip). This scares away a lot of people, but there is a way that you can have your cake and eat it too – get your employer to pay for your new educational pursuit. In my limited experience, there are a surprising number of employers out there that are at least willing to negotiate this proposal if they don’t have automatic support system already in place.

Repeat After Me “Professional Development”

By pitching the idea to your employer that this education will make you a better employee, you can make it easier for them to say yes. For example, if you work in a mechanic shop and are looking at getting certification to work on a certain type of engine, or to do a certain type of welding, you are actually upping the service package that the business can put forth. Show the direct or even indirect benefits to the business of your education path. People do respond to incentives after all. I think the more specific you are in how it can benefit the overall business, the more likely you are to get some financial support, because not only are you helping the business, but it shows how thoroughly you have thought out the process.

Make Yourself an Asset

Whether you are asking for a raise, a promotion, or educational help, one thing remains consistent – your position in much improved if you are a genuine asset to an employer. “How do you become an asset?” one might ask. Well, it usually includes a lot of hard work and probably some sacrifice, but also walking the line between shy and boastful. Aim for humble, yet aware of your worth. Your superiors will notice if you are finding ways to do things that help that others aren’t. If they don’t notice, find creative ways to get them to notice. Once people realize that you are going the extra mile, and that they can’t just replace you at the drop of a hat, you have become an asset to the company. The best part is that pursuing any job-specific training or education should make you even more of an asset going forward, and give you more leverage when you renegotiate that compensation package in a few years.

Calm Their Fears of Abandonment

If you put yourself in the shoes of your employer, your biggest worry is probably that they will invest this financial capital in training you, and you will reward them by running into the arms of the company down the road. This is the risk they often see when you approach them for help with your education. If you can ease this worry it will go a long way to building a mutual trust and faith. I recommend proposing a deal that is contingent upon you staying with the company for X number of years. Many places have standard deals like this where they will pay for your school, but if you leave within five years you have to pay it back. This is still a great deal when you think about it. Not only are you getting the money to upgrade your skills/resume, but you are guaranteed a job when you are done, and probably one with a higher pay grade. By proposing a contract like that, if a can’t miss offer ever came in from another company, you could always ask them to pay the fines for you if you were leaving. Personally, I’d have some loyalty issues as that point, but I’ve been told this is how the world works these days.

Fringe Benefits

A couple of other cool insights I’ve noticed when talking to people who have used this approach revolve around being creative when thinking up other benefits your educational pursuits could have for your place of work. One obvious instance is that paying for your school would likely be a tax write-off for most companies. This lessens the real cost of the capital investment and makes it easier to say yes. Another one I’ve heard before is to present the case that the personal networks you create while in school can be used to the company’s advantage. This one might be fairly specific to the business world, but it never hurts to have contact with people who are upgrading their skills. If a company is looking for higher level clients, or looking to recruit ambitious workers, they might be interested in who you meet while at school.

Help businesses help you. Give them solid reasons that they can use to justify investing in you. In some cases it’s just a matter of looking up your company policy on financial assistance for upgrading your skill set, in others it may involve a little salesmanship and ambition. It’s worth a little extra effort though when you consider the extensive benefits getting your employer to help you out can have.

Was anyone able to benefit by getting their employer to pay for their professional development? I find it weird as a teacher that my school division doesn’t provide any real support for teachers pursuing a master’s degree. There is an automatic pay bump once you have the degree though, so maybe that is the incentive in their minds.

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