“Continuous learning is the minimum requirement for success in any field.” – Brian Tracy.
Today’s competitive business landscape is characterised by VUCA, i.e. volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Professionals – particularly those in knowledge industries – must pursue continuous learning and development to succeed in this world.
Are you a working professional looking to pursue a course, license or certification to further your career? Good for you! But what if this course or certificate is out of your budget? Should you give up on pursuing that project management course, computer networking diploma, or business analyst certification? Far from it!
You can still achieve your dream – by getting your employer to pay for it.
If you feel sceptical or believe that only a lucky few can successfully study on their employer’s dime, you should know that:
- This practice is not as uncommon as you think
- Many companies want to invest in their employees by paying for their professional education
- It’s not about luck but about preparation and fact-finding (and sharing)
This article addresses Point #3. Here are 5 ways to get your company to pay for your professional development or continuing education. But first, a slight (useful) detour…
Why Continuous Learning is Important for Working Professionals
In our hyper-competitive world, where human workers are not only competing with each other but also with machines, it’s not exactly easy to achieve professional success. In this world, one of the best ways to increase your professional value and demand is through ongoing learning and development.
By investing in continuous learning, you can expand your existing skillset, boost your profile, and avoid professional stagnation. When you make an effort to keep learning, no matter how busy you are, you can develop new competencies that may be critical for your current role or any future role you aspire to. Most importantly, you can better adapt to unexpected changes and open doors to new opportunities for career growth.
And now, on to the 5 tips to get your company to foot your education bill.
Think About “What’s In It For Me?” from the Company’s Perspective
Every marketer and advertiser knows that customers don’t care about TV ads, paper leaflets, or email newsletters unless they can see what value they can create. When designing new campaigns, marketers and advertisers put themselves in their customers’ shoes. They think about how they will answer a customer who asks, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM).
Think about your company as a customer. How will you answer their WIIFM question? Consider how your course, certification or diploma can help your company in tangible ways by asking yourself:
- By completing the course, will you be able to offer new skills that contribute to the company’s competitiveness, growth, or revenues?
- Can you help fill in knowledge gaps to solve real challenges or create new opportunities?
- Will a post-course you be more valuable to them than a pre-course you?
If you can confidently answer “Yes” to all these questions, you can make a solid argument with your superiors and are more likely to convince the company to pay for your education.
Be Ready with Solid Answers to Valid Concerns
Many managers understand that employees who continue their education can also garner value for the company. And yet, they also have concerns around the employee’s job focus and engagement. When you approach your manager or supervisor with a proposal to continue your education, they may ask:
- Will you be able to meet your job responsibilities?
- Can you simultaneously focus on both the course and your role?
- How will you manage your time?
- Will you lose the time your company is paying for, and how will you make up for it?
- How will you deal with any sudden or unexpected events on either the education or job fronts?
You must prepare the answers to all these (very valid) questions. Make a solid case to convince your boss that your studies will not adversely impact your workplace responsibilities. You also have an excellent opportunity to show that you have the drive and self-motivation to wear multiple hats. Make use of this opportunity to strengthen your argument.
Create a Detailed Plan with Cost Breakdowns, Timelines and ROI Projections
Search Google for “what is the purpose of a company”, and you will get millions of answers, from “improve the community” and “drive positive change” to “bring new innovations to life” and “meet their customers’ wants or needs”. Regardless of what such articles say, the fact is, for-profit companies are about…well…profit. Companies want to increase their profits and keep their costs down. So if you are asking your company to pay for your education, you are also asking them to increase their costs. That’s why it’s essential to show them the financial benefits (i.e. the profit) of your education to your company.
For example, can you prove that they can save money with a home-grown, fully-certified project manager (aka you) instead of hiring an external and expensive certified project manager? If yes, you can show them the potential ROI of educating you. This way, you are more likely to get them on board and enthusiastic.
To minimise the chances of rejection, it’s also crucial to provide a specific and detailed cost breakdown by answering questions like:
- What are the course fees?
- Will you – or the company – have to pay for learning materials?
- What about the examination or licensing costs?
- Will there be other associated costs, e.g. meals, travel, lodging, registration fees, etc.?
Gather these facts before approaching your manager. By providing tangible figures and exact (or near-exact) information, you can show that you are serious about improving your professional profile without overly burdening the company.
Prepare Case Studies
Case studies are instrumental in professional settings, and with good reason. A solid, fact-based case study allows readers to understand a complex issue or concept. It clearly shows what challenges someone faced and how they resolved them. It may also indicate the material results or benefits of a particular action or set of actions.
A case study is an excellent option to demonstrate to your employer how a course may be helpful – for you and for them. Gather information about people who did a similar course and how the course benefited them and their company. Were they able to:
- Close more sales?
- Create new revenue-generating opportunities?
- Increase repeat sales and profits?
- Generate and qualify more leads?
- Land more clients, and increase the customer base?
- Arrest customer churn?
These are just some ideas to get you started. Also, find out if a relevant degree or course increased their productivity, efficiency, or profitability.
If you can’t find real-world case studies, create a compelling story instead. The purpose is the same – to convince your employer that they will be investing in your education, not increasing their costs.
Prepare Your Pitch and Practice with a Devil’s Advocate
A devil’s advocate is someone who expresses contentious or negative opinions to test the strength and validity of opposing arguments. A devil’s advocate can be your best friend when preparing your proposal and practising your pitch. This person will expose flaws in your thinking and logic and force you to think about things that you might not have considered earlier.
For example, they can ask questions like:
- Why are you interested in this particular learning opportunity?
- How will this programme help your career, and why should the company care about it?
- What are the potential financial and non-financial benefits for the company?
- Would you be prepared to sign a contract or some other binding agreement (e.g. “I promise to stay on for X years if the company pays for my education”)?
- By when do you expect to complete your course? How will you deal with any extended deadlines? More importantly, how will you ensure that it doesn’t have a negative impact on your professional responsibilities?
Your chosen devil’s advocate can be a trusted friend, a spouse, or even someone within the company, such as a senior manager you don’t directly report to. What’s important is that this person should be able to expose flaws in your plan – and call you out on them, so you can make a solid case to get your company to pay for your education.
If you’re passionate about continuing your education while working and can make a solid pitch to your company, you have a great chance to get their buy-in. Be sincere, have facts and figures on hand, and practice your pitch. Also, demonstrate your loyalty, be considerate of the company’s budgetary limitations, and be gracious, regardless of the answer. Show your company the value of investing in your professional development – and there’s no reason why they won’t. Good luck!