Your career will evolve over time, and the training you secure to meet the changing requirements of your industry, the ever-evolving marketplace, and even your own new and developing interests will dictate the course you follow. Here are some options to consider.
Whether you are looking to take the first steps toward your professional future or you are a seasoned professional looking for a new direction, college is a logical first step. While the idea of returning to school could seem intimidating, the move can be well worth the effort. “It’s never too late to learn something new,” Marci Alboher, author of One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success, said in an article by Monster.com. “Besides, for many people, going back to school is a chance to pursue the career they always hoped they had tried for in the first place.”
Seminars, Webinars, Classes
Training and other forms of leadership seminars and classes abound. Stay in touch with your employer or other industry-related organizations to learn which professional development opportunities are available to you. If you aren’t able to travel somewhere, that doesn’t necessarily pose a problem. Remember that rapidly advancing technology has also made it possible to take advantage of a number of distance learning opportunities.
Earning a certification of some sort—if it is an option in your field—is a good means of professional development to follow if you aren’t in a position to return to school or change careers. A certification indicates that you have met a predetermined standard of knowledge and ability for your line of work.
Some certifications are more worthwhile than others, so perform some serious research as you consider what you’d like to earn. Make sure the agency issuing the certification is reputable, Quintessential Careers has cautioned, and be sure you understand any costs for recertification and other educational or experience-related requirements that may apply.
Methods of Professional Development
Many industries have related professional associations. These organizations can be good sources of training and professional development opportunities. If you aren’t sure what is available in your industry or where you live, try a resource such as The ASAE Gateway to Associations Directory (http://www.asaecenter.org/Community/Directories/AssociationSearch.cfm) to start looking. You may find in-person courses, online seminars, at-home study courses, or other options for furthering your career.
The right mentor can help you add considerably to your professional development. By working with someone who has been successful in his or her career, you can learn a great deal about how you want to guide your future. Mentors are much closer acquaintances than simple networking contacts, Quintessential Careers has explained. They can help you get where you want to be in your career. “He or she is someone you probably have unusually good chemistry with who will share stories with you of his or her own climb to success. An effective mentor isn’t afraid to criticize constructively.”
If you want help finding a mentor, work with your employer or a local college or university to see if mentoring programs are available. Those who prefer to look for mentors on their own should consider the people for whom they have the most respect. Who do you admire? Who would you like to cultivate a relationship with? This is often a great place to start as you consider who to ask to help you guide your career.
If you simply want to learn something new, pick up a book on the subject and start reading. Learning is a lifelong process and one you can pursue in a variety of fashions on your own timetable.
Who Pays for Professional Development?
Professional development comes at a financial cost for someone. “A conference here, a certification course there, and pretty soon we’re talking real dollars,” Lester A. Picker wrote for the Baltimore Sun. If you’re interested in furthering your job skills but aren’t sure how to pay for it, consider some of the following options.
For some required training, your employer may be willing to fund your professional development. In many cases, financial help with professional development is included in an employee’s benefits package.
As you consider skills you hope to develop in the future, contemplate how you can earn your way toward a training seminar or certification. Your employer may want to reward you for showing extra initiative on projects or a demonstrated willingness to assume more responsibility within the company. If he can see how you put your skills into action, paying for additional professional development may seem like a good investment.
Be certain you know whether the company you work for has partnerships with any educational institutions. Your training costs may be reduced, or your tuition price could be locked in. Military personnel are another group of individuals who can fall back on the service they offered the country and take advantage of educational assistance when choosing a different professional path later.
Funding Your Own Development
If you are self-employed or paying for your own professional development, you may qualify for certain tax breaks, which will help offset costs. Check with a professional if you need help understanding whether these benefits apply to your situation.
Contact any professional associations you belong to for additional help with training and related costs. You may receive a reduced rate for your training expenses.
Scholarships and Other Financial Aid
If you are attending college to further enhance your professional skills, know that many sources of funding are available to help you offset tuition costs. You might qualify for local area scholarships or financial aid from the school you plan to attend. Federal and state grants are popular sources of funding students often pursue; the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one common example.
Loans are another option for someone who isn’t able to secure scholarships or grants. Loans issued under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL) have low interest rates and deferred payment plans. Your bank may also give you a loan, but be certain you understand the interest rates and conditions of repayment.
Look through your options thoroughly, especially if you are furthering your education due to pay cuts or job loss. Your severance pay may include compensation for retraining. If you have not yet received an undergraduate college degree, you may also qualify for tax breaks for pursuing higher education.