Finding Free or Low-Cost Training to Boost Your Employability

If you are currently out of work and looking for a job, or if you are currently employed but would like to find a different job that perhaps offers better pay and benefits, you may need to learn new skills to become a more attractive job candidate for a prospective employer. However you may not have the time and financial resources to be able to go back to school full-time to earn or complete a degree, or the skills you would like to learn may not require full-time schoolwork or be available from the resources available in your area. How do you find affordable training that works for both your budget and your schedule so that you can expand your vocational skill-set?

There are numerous free or low-cost resources easily available to you either online or in your community that can help you gain the skills you need to get a job or move into a better one. Check out these possible providers of free or low-cost job training opportunities:

  • Your local library. In addition to providing free books, CDs and DVDs for rent on a wide variety of work-related topics, libraries often provide meeting space for individuals and organizations hosting seminars open to the public for free or at minimal cost. Ask a librarian if they have an “upcoming events” bulletin board or publication that lists upcoming career development-related events or if there is a calendar on their website where you can access that information.

    Often libraries will also compile information on job training, placement and career counseling resources in the local community and serve as a clearinghouse on workplace development-related information for patrons. For example, the Brooklyn, New York Public Library system runs an Education & Job Information Center that publishes a brochure listing all local job training resources.

  • A local community college or technical school. In addition to offering full- or part-time degree programs, most community colleges offer shorter courses geared for the full-time worker that meet on nights and weekends or even online courses administered by on-campus professors that you can complete according to your schedule. Many community college systems also run job skill centers that are specifically designed to help local employers provide training for current or prospective workers. For example City Colleges of Chicago runs a Workforce Institute that provides programs in leadership development, manufacturing and information technology, Six Sigma methodology, and more for local employers and residents. Call or stop by the main office of a local community college campus or technical school in your area to learn what affordable onsite and online job training resources they may offer to help you expand the types of jobs for which you could be qualified.

    Make sure you also ask about tuition assistance programs, scholarships and grants if there is a cost associated with the training. If you are unemployed and looking for employment training to help you secure a new job you may qualify for Federal Pell Grant funding to pay for educational training at a university, community college and/or technical or trade school. The school’s financial aid office should be able to provide you with information on how to apply for federal student aid.

  • Your current employer. If you are still working your employer may offer training in areas that you have not considered exploring until now. For example Johnson & Johnson employees can take advantage of their company’s eUniversity to learn about different aspects of the company’s business, and a School of Personal and Professional Development that offers numerous growth and development resources including traditional classroom training and eLearning.

    Even if your employer doesn’t offer on-site training the company may offer – or agree to - tuition reimbursement so that you can expand your skills and become a more valuable employee. Talk with someone in your human resources department to learn what opportunities may be available or – if there is no training program at your current place of work – ask if you could look into opportunities for job skills training for both yourself and other employees. Your employer may be open to creating a tuition reimbursement program if you’re willing to invest some time and do some legwork to find local training opportunities that could benefit the workforce.

  • Your local or state government. Every state government and most local governments have established programs to provide career-related training opportunities for residents. To find free or low-cost training through your state or local government use the internet. Specifically:

    1. go to your state’s official website. Go to a major search engine like Google.com and then type in your state and end with “.gov” (for example www.illinois.gov)
    2. when that site comes up type in the search bar “adult education” or “job training”
    3. A list of related web pages and resources should appear. For example, the Illinois state government website has an Adult Education section that would take you to the Career Development and Information section where you could click on the Illinois Work Net website and quickly find local federal and state-funded job training opportunities across the state.

    In addition your state, city or locality may have an economic development agency or workforce development office that can point you to job training opportunities and providers in your area. Your state government’s website will list that agency contact information or you can look it up in the blue pages of your phone book under “Government.”

    You can also find information on federally-funded job training opportunities through America’s Service Locator which can help you locate a federal One-Stop Career Center in your area. You can get a head start on identifying job training and education resources in your area through Career One-Stop’s “Education and Training Finder” page on their website. If you are out of work and collecting unemployment your local unemployment office can also provide you with information on federal and state-funded job training programs which you can take advantage of to learn more about – and become better prepared for – a new occupation.

    If you are a small business owner – or would like to become a small business owner – you can find a wealth of free on-site and online training from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE.

  • Local nonprofit organizations. Community service organizations provide employment training for people looking to enter the workforce for the first time or to re-enter the workplace after losing a job. For example the United Way and Goodwill both offer free job training; you can use those national websites to locate a center in your community or region.

  • Chamber of Commerce. Most local Chambers of Commerce offer local residents and Chamber members educational opportunities including information, counseling and training in needed job skills. Your Chamber of Commerce may also hold events at which you can meet potential employers or people with whom to network to find a job. Look in the blue “Government” section of your phone book or visit your city or town’s website to find contact information for your local Chamber of Commerce.

  • Business networking groups. Business networking groups provide individuals with an opportunity to meet and connect with other professionals within a community, town or region. In addition to regular “meet and greet” events these groups often hold events such as speakers and training sessions on business-related topics. Check at your local library, newspaper and Chamber of Commerce to find business networking groups in your area.

  • Online courses. The internet can be a treasure trove if you’re looking for ways to learn new skills. There are a wide variety of websites that provide step-by-step tutorials or even full seminars and courses on specific topics that can help you develop work-related skills. For example the Goodwill Community Foundation (GCF) provides free online classes and tutorials on numerous career-related topics such as math basics and computer training (PowerPoint, Microsoft Office, Internet Basics, etc.). If there is a cost associated with the online training, as with any other purchase, buyer beware. Make sure that the person or organization which you are paying for the training is credible. You can check with organizations like the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). Look for providers that will award you accredited continuing education units (CEUs) and even a certificate for completing coursework – these are helpful to be able to list on your resume or work application. Job preparation and employment website Careerbuilder.com offers free and low-cost skill-building online classes and assessments through their CareerBuilder Institute. Take advantage of all the resources available on online employment and job-finding sites, such as job skills that are in high demand and tips on how to build those skills.

    In addition to formal online courses which may provide education credits and certifications, you can find more informal – and often free – training through blogs and podcasts. Blogs are online (web-based) journals. There are literally millions of blogs on virtually every career-related topic you can imagine. Podcasts are audio presentations on a specific topic and vodcasts are video presentations. You can find blogs on your topics of interest by using major search engines like Google or Yahoo! and typing your field or topic of interest and “blog” (i.e. “bookkeeping blog”) or by using blog-specific search engines such as Technorati.com. You can find podcasts on topics through an organization’s websites (they will typically display a podcast icon where you can click to listen to a podcast presentation) or through Apple’s iTunes online storefront.

  • Professional associations. If you belong to a professional association you may be able to take advantage of seminars, workshops or classes that the association offers as a benefit to members. To find local or even national associations that could provide training as a benefit use Google.com to search your field of interest and “association.” For example, if you have a background in medicine and would like to pursue a job that combines that background with writing you could search “medical writing association.” That search would lead you to the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) which offers members both on-site and online continuing educational workshops and certificate programs. While most professional associations require annual membership dues the cost could be well worth it when you consider the employment training opportunities and job placement tools you can access.

  • Volunteer work. Local nonprofits in your area may provide valuable training and experience in new skill areas. Talk with friends and family members to learn about nonprofits they support or have worked with in the past. Take time to learn about the type of work you would be trained in and/or could perform so that you can be assured that the volunteer experience is going to add to your skillset and be worth the time you invest. You can find volunteer opportunities in your area through the Volunteer Match website.

  • Local extension programs. Most land grant colleges and universities (meaning higher-education institutions which have been granted land and/or financial support by the federal government) have extension programs which provide people within the local community, region and across the state with unique learning and work opportunities. You can find a land grant college or university closest to you through the Association of Public and Land-Grant University’s Membership Directory. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (under the U.S. Department of Agriculture) oversees a Cooperative Extension System which is a non-credit educational network that operates in every state through local or regional offices in conjunction with a land-grant university. These offices provide useful, practical and research-based information to people in rural areas and non-rural communities. These extension programs can be a valuable source of employment information and training, particularly in rural areas where other resources may not be as easily accessible. Find contact information for the Cooperative Extension System in your state on the NIFA website.

Conclusion

Expanding your job skills set is one of the best investments you can make and there are resources available to help you. Take some time to find and tap into resources in your community or online to learn how you can develop new skills and become a more attractive job applicant to your current, or next, employer.