Professionals who are interested in training and development face a conundrum. When they are working full-time, possibly with the additional pressure of supporting their families, finding time to fit in coursework is a challenge. Finding the financial means to pay for training can also be difficult. For workers who are between jobs, being able to pay for training may become an even greater concern.
Although finding unused time is still a chimera for many of us, finding a way to pay for coursework may be an easier question to tackle. While federal loans are reserved for students enrolled in degree programs, other options do exist for those who seek help to pay for non-degree programs, such as professional development and training certificates.
Federal and State Workforce Funding
Some workers may be eligible for free financing for their chosen training program through federal and state workforce funding. This avenue is particularly attractive for workers who may be between jobs and who want to make a career shift. The major benefit of financing your training this way is that it is usually 100% paid for. However, not every worker will qualify, and the application and proposal process takes time and effort to complete.
So where does workforce funding come from? The 1998 Workforce Investment Act addressed the changing needs surrounding training, adult education, federal employment, and vocational rehabilitation programs. In Colorado, for example, county Workforce Centers provide free services for workers in a one-stop-shop environment: training, job listings, Internet access, career counseling, and other services. In September 2011, the Sustainable Practices Program was accepted into the Colorado State Energy Sector Partnership as an Approved Education Provider. In 2010, the State of Colorado was awarded $6 million for a training grant program administered through the Colorado Workforce Centers that runs through January 2013. If you are, or plan to, seeking a training grant through your County Workforce Training Center, be sure and mention that the Sustainable Practices Program is an SESP Approved Education Provider.
Suzanne Reed, a Program Specialist at Workforce Boulder County, helps workers in the Boulder area secure funding to help them with their training ambitions. Among the people Reed has supported is Adam Cahn, a student enrolled in both the Building & Energy Certificate and a Sustainability Management Certificate. While attending an unemployment seminar, Cahn heard a fellow participant talk about her training, which she was able to finance with Workforce Investment Act funding.
Cahn said, “I was unemployed and had been trying to make a career shift. I googled the Workforce Investment Act and realized that I might be able to get funding to complete the Sustainable Practices coursework I’d already started. I knew where my gaps were and how I could fill them with the Sustainable Practices certificates; the workforce funding will help me get there.”
If you are a worker interested in how the Workforce Investment Act might be able to help you with your career needs, where should you begin? Cahn suggests you contact your county or state Workforce Center for help. Center staff will be able to help you explore training programs, as well as develop your application and proposal in a way that makes a strong case for workforce funding.
Leslie Lee is another Sustainable Practices student who is receiving workforce development funding, in this case through Douglas County. She worked to get Sustainable Practices approved with the Colorado Workforce Center training navigator. She said, “I am on the older side; I have good credentials but they’re thirty years old. The workforce center told me I needed to update them. Workforce is a good program; it helps people get back into the job market.”
For more information on Colorado’s Workforce Centers, visit http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/CDLE-EmployTrain/CDLE/1248095319014
For more information on the State Energy Sector Partnership, visit http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/CDLE-EmployTrain/CDLE/1251579652720
Financing through your local bank
During times of unemployment or underemployment, some of us may be tempted to turn to our credit cards to fill the gap. However, the drawback is obvious: credit cards demand higher interest than most loans; you don’t come away with new skills or applicable experience; and credit card debt can be difficult to pay down once financial difficulties let up.
However, there is an alternative to using credit cards to finance debt. Some workers can finance professional development and training through their local bank. To find out about alternative student loan programs, start with the educational institution where you are seeking training. For example, Rosanne Romano, a financial aid officer at the CU-Boulder Division of Continuing Education and Professional Studies, has helped many students find creative bank financing for education.
Romano said, “Bank loans are tied to a specific academic term in which a student is enrolled. So, if a student enrolls for summer and fall term, the university would certify the loan to cover the student’s expenses during that time frame—including tuition,
Because they are tied to a specific term and are flexible in the types of expenses they can be used for, bank loans can be a great way to finance education and professional development. This is particularly true for workers who are between jobs or who anticipate increasing their earnings after completing their education.
Professional Development Benefits and employer financing
For workers who are employed but who would like financial support to receive training, consider asking if your company offers professional development benefits. Sometimes available through a company's HR department, your employer may pay for all or part of your training. Many companies stand behind their employees’ need to grow professionally; however, it can help if you make a business case for your training.
Janice Godard, an employee at Avaya Communications, is earning her Sustainable Practices certificate with the financial support of her company. Godard said, “I think it’s important to go to your company and make the argument that the training that you want, will benefit them somehow—for example, that they’ll become more energy efficient.” It may also help to make a case of how the training will help you gain additional skills as their employee, especially if you are already working in a sustainability area of a company or organization.
Also plan to work with the education program that you are considering enrolling with; training staff can tell you about early bird discounts or help with documenting the potential benefits to your employer.
Finally, consider that while professional development often equates with attending annual professional conferences at some companies, and such events can be valuable, attendance may not give you a new credential the way that focused training or a professional certificate might. This can be a selling point when you make the case to substitute annual conference attendance with employer-paid training.
Special scholarships and work-exchange arrangements
In addition to the avenues above, don’t forget to explore financial support offered through nonprofit foundations or even through the educational institution you plan to attend. Educational institutions or training centers sometimes offer special scholarships to applicants.