If you want to get ahead in your career, you can’t fall behind with the times. Staying apprised of the latest industry trends while building upon your core knowledge and skills benefits you and your employer.

This is where professional development programs might help you. Certificates, leadership programs, seminars, and conference sessions can be a time- and cost-effective way to fill gaps in your experience. 

You may feel anxious by the prospect of talking to your boss about paying for a professional development program, but you shouldn’t. 

Many companies have money set aside for professional development, but it’s up to you to let your boss know you’d like to tap into these funds. With the “great resignation” underway, many employers are looking for ways to retain and invest in talent. 

How should you start the conversation? Make it clear that career growth is your priority, and good for your organization as well. Follow this advice to help convince your boss to invest in strengthening your skills.

Skills Gained Through Professional Development Programs

Unlike taking courses for academic credit, or completing a whole degree or certificate program, professional development programs are short-duration, skill-based programs that cover an array of activities. 

Depending on your industry and role, professional development can focus on technical skills or knowledge specific to your industry. When evaluating professional development programs, read the description carefully to be sure it will deliver the information and skills you need.

You should also remember there is value to the softer skills you’ll acquire, such as:

  • Leadership capabilities
  • Networking opportunities
  • Improved communication

The value of these skills and opportunities are harder to quantify, but they are just as important to your career development and your employer’s bottom line. For example, you may meet the perfect new hire for an open position at your company or you may learn how another organization approached the same challenges your team is facing.    

The amount of time you have available to devote to a professional development program may also help dictate the type of opportunity you pursue. You’ll want to have as much information about the professional development opportunity close at hand before you approach your boss with your request for funding.

Do Your Research

Before you can speak to your boss, research your organization’s policies on professional development funding. To find out how your employer has supported professional development in the past, take advantage of a few resources readily at your disposal. 

  • Go through your employee handbook or Intranet
  • Talk to fellow colleagues 
  • Reach out to your human resources department 

This knowledge is key – if financing conferences and the like are already a perk, you’ll simply need to show your boss how your proposed program aligns with previously funded educational opportunities. 

If your employer doesn’t have a track record of financing training programs, it doesn’t mean it’s out of the question. 

You just need to be strategic in how you make your case. For example, it’s not uncommon for companies to have a budget dedicated toward team building activities and travel. Due to the pandemic, there may be unused funds that can be redirected

Second, research the professional development program you want to attend. 

Your research and preparation should entail carefully outlining questions or concerns your boss may have. The conversation will be more productive if you are armed with concrete answers. 

You should be able to answer basic questions such as:

  • Program cost
  • Program duration
  • When the training takes place
  • Application deadline
  • What you will learn and how your new knowledge will benefit the company

It may be prudent to investigate multiple professional development programs so you can suggest one in particular that may be the highest value to you and your employer. 

Develop Your Sales Pitch

Broach the conversation as you would any serious negotiation. 

If the idea of participating in a professional development program is new, and the enrollment deadline is in the near future, you may not have the luxury of finding the ideal time to bring up the subject with your boss. 

In this scenario, set up a formal meeting during a convenient day and time. Having a dedicated time blocked off for the discussion will allow your boss to be focused on the conversation and give you time to present your case. 

If enrollment deadlines aren’t looming, annual performance reviews naturally lend themselves as the ideal time to talk about ways to improve your performance and meet your career goals. 

With your research in hand, you should be confident in making a strong case for having your employer pay for professional development opportunities. 

In addition to going over the basics of which professional development program you’d like to attend and its associated costs, be sure to to talk about how the company will benefit from this investment. Some potential outcomes you may want to emphasize include: 

  • New skills so you won’t have to rely on vendors for some projects
  • Ability to turnaround projects more efficiently 
  • Improved leadership skills
  • Up-to-date technical knowledge so new employees don’t need to be hired

Rehearse your pitch beforehand and brainstorm all potential objections to lessen the chances of being thrown off guard by certain questions. There may be concern for how the coursework will impact your ability to focus on your job, for example. You need to be prepared to explain how you can balance the two.

Get the ‘Yes’

Once you’ve been given approval to enroll in a program, be sure you are aware of any stipulations. Some things you’ll want to be clear on include:

  • Who pays the bill? Do you have to pay the bill upfront and then be reimbursed?
  • Do you have to earn a certain grade in order to be compensated? 
  • Are you required to stay at the company for a certain amount of time after the program? 

These are important things to be aware of before you sign up – you wouldn’t want to be surprised by a large bill for a course because you left the company too soon. 

It’s been said the greatest investment you can make is an investment in yourself. Having a strategy in place before approaching your boss will improve the likelihood they’ll be willing to make the financial investment in you, too.