Keeping your education fresh is essential to career success. Sometimes it’s possible to get your employer to foot the bill for skill building! We’ll take a broad definition of “school” because it’s not always college that people need or even want to keep polishing their skills. Here’s your game plan for getting an employer to fund education.
Start with HR to Know the Policy
While this seems obvious, researching your company policies from the most informed source is essential. Your immediate supervisor may not be entirely aware of the benefits available to employees in this space. If the answer is that they never do anything like this, never have, and never will – no problem, don’t be discouraged just yet! For now, we’re only on a fact finding mission about what is on the books. Having this research in hand allows you to go into your management well-prepared and sympathetic to the bureaucracy that the’ll encounter trying to assist you.
When talking with HR about these programs, keep your questions broad, using words like “funding employee skill building/training/education.” If you ask too narrow a question here, you might miss out on understanding what possibilities are available to you. For example, if you’re only asking about if you can get a small course paid for, you’ll miss out on knowing about other (and potentially more valuable) training benefits.
Craft a Value Proposition
After you’ve done your homework with HR, you’ll want to get to work on crafting a really compelling value proposition for your management. All that means is frame your “ask” in terms of what’s in it fort them, your colleagues, and your company. How will the skills you develop make you better at your current job? Does it mean they may not have to spend more money to hire and train someone else on a skill you’re interested in learning? Would this course allow you to more effectively work between teams and cross train others? This pitch should really comprehensive and well structured. Actually take the time to write it out, and practice briefing it to yourself in the mirror.
Offer a Commitment…
Embedded in your pitch should be a willingness to stick around. For major expenses like bachelor degrees or masters’ programs expect an employer to ask you for a time commitment during and following your schooling whereby you would work for them. This is usually based on either the cost of or length of your program.
This commitment is important to keep in mind especially if your goal in adding to your education is ultimately to hunt down a new job. Take some time to reflect on the cost of the education vs. the opportunity cost of staying in the same role or with the same company for another several years; you may decide it’s worth it to pay for it yourself so you have no strings attached!
… Or to Share What You Learn
A boss will think they’re getting a bit more value for money if you’re willing to diffuse your new found talents to the whole team. This tends to work best with more tactical courses vice formal degrees, but offer to put together presentations, workshops, or demonstrations to share what you’re learning with your larger team. Bonus Points: You’ll get to add “instructor” to your resume and frankly one of the best ways to really learn something is to teach. (Scientists call it the “protégé effect.”)
Scale For Development Level
Be realistic about where there really is value to your employer in paying for an educational opportunity. If your day job is at an advertising firm in design, it’s going to be a pretty hard sell to convince your management that they need to pay for a class on understanding the stock market. Have a good sense for where your “ask” lies on the spectrum of needing training to do your job versus a bucket list class on something unrelated.
Also keep in mind how you’re performing in your job. If you’ve been at the company a few years and are in full on rockstar mode, then you have more wiggle room to ask for the things that support your long term goals. If you’re newer to the team, it doesn’t mean you can’t ask for skill funding, but it means that it needs to be more directly tied to the work you’re doing today and it should be filling in any gaps in expertise as you master your newer role.
Timing has a lot to do with if your request is going to be granted or not. It’s helpful to have an understanding of how budgets work at your company. Is this something that you know will need to be planned for almost a year in advance? If your company plans expenses annually you’ll want to get on your bosses calendar with this topic a few weeks to a month in advance of their budgeting process. You may choose to connect this discussion to a performance review, cribbing off of your excellent work and while you’re discussing longer term career goals.
Consider A Corporate Partnership
At a former company, I had high hopes of a taking a class on public speaking that despite my best effort was not going to get funded by work. With management support, I cold pitched the PR people of the company, asking them if they’d consider doing a condensed course in exchange for some type of PR consideration.
It turned out that they were just training up a bunch of newly minted instructors and wanted to be able to give their instructors feedback on teaching style. They agreed to do a condensed version of the group class weekly at our offices if they could record the classes and use it for feedback. This is a lot of effort but if you pull it off you not only get the training you were after, but major gravitas and bonus points with your higher-ups!
Tried All That. It’s Still Not Happening.
If at the end of the day your company or boss can’t make funding an educational objective work, there are a number of ways you can ask them to still assist you in achieving your goals.
- Ask When You Can Ask Again: Sometimes you just don’t know what you’re management is up against at a particular time. it could be that they have insight on budgets or how this flopped in the past and they’re a little trigger shy in this moment. It’s totally reasonable to ask them when would be an appropriate time to raise this possibility again. In the long run, if this aspect of compensation is important to you, it’s good to know if management treats this type of request with a closed door.
- Someone Senior Recommends You: Identify someone in your company who is a senior leader or mentor with a great reputation, and potentially well-recognized in your community of interest. Ideally, this person has had some exposure to your work directly, or could be advised of your excellence through really close secondhand experience. Working through your direct management (don’t go over their head without them knowing) ask if they’d consider assisting you in reaching out to this executive to write recommendation for your school application.
- Push Up Your Performance Review: If you’re planning to take a course regardless of their funding support, see if management is willing to more quickly review your new talents and performance for a raise or promotion. For example, if you only get a performance review annually, ask if you could receive an interim review assessing how your skills have improved your performance at work. Even if it doesn’t result in extra cash immediately, it’s great to have on record to demonstrate your motivation and self-discipline.
- Take Time Off For Classes: While this is still definitely an expense to the company, time off work for your classes can often be easier for management to support. This is especially true if you can offer to “flex” the work hours you miss during the day by working remotely a bit at night or as need to get the job done.
- Books or Travel Costs Get Reimbursed: Everyone knows that any sort of educational endeavor adds up with little expenses along the way. Is there a smaller dollar amount they’d be willing to reimburse? Even things like supplies, books, or transit may be something the company could fund. (Tip: Offer to donate any expensed books to an office library!)
- Introduce You to An Alumni Network: Could your boss or their colleagues introduce you to an alumni network you want to know? You’d be surprised at how many little-known connections people have in their networks and just raising your interest in a particular school or topic and asking for an introduction to that community can be priceless.