A former student recently contacted me with news that he was returning to school. Yay! As I’ve said before, gaining additional education or skills is a great way to boost your value in the job market. Particularly these days, when a surplus of applicants means employers can afford to be picky, and decent-paying jobs you can get with just a high school diploma are fast disappearing.
If you follow this blog, you know this is one of my favorite drums to beat. If you’re new here, you might want to check out: Five reasons training may be the answer for ex-offenders and others looking to make a fresh start.
That said, with the unemployment rate at 9.6 percent (and well into the double digits in some sectors and parts of the country), training alone won’t guarantee you a job. I’ve worked with a number of people with criminal records who’ve complained their certificates and additional degrees haven’t opened the doors they expected. So before you jump back into the classroom, here are some things to consider to help ensure you do it the right way:
Look for programs that offer work experience or require an internship.
The best way to get hired is to show an employer what you can do. Perhaps that’s why some of the strongest training and degree programs require that you do on-the-job training or an internship. A 2008 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found companies offered jobs to nearly 70 percent of their interns. In addition, nearly a third of the new college graduates that employers hired in 2007 were from their internship programs. Even allowing that the recession has likely brought those numbers down some, that’s still a pretty good plug for the benefits of getting your foot in the door early. And even if an internship doesn’t lead to a job, you’ve still got a solid professional reference to use to find your next position.
Do your homework
Don’t sign up for the first program that turns up in your junk mail or on the wall of a subway train. Ask a career counselor or job placement expert at your local state employment or CareerOneStop center for recommendations. Look at accredited colleges or universities, or certificate programs offered by legitimate education and training firms. Many online courses are also good, but be aware that online scams abound, so do your research. Don’t be afraid to ask how a school’s students have fared. What are their job placement rates? Can you talk to previous students about their experiences? Make sure you know what you’re getting for your money. The FTC, for example, has identified a number of scams that entice you to by software to train yourself for a new career in medical billing and coding. What they don’t tell you is that without connections or certification, you typically can’t find clients so it’s difficult to make money. So again, buyer beware.
Can you devote the time you need to taking a course right now? Can you afford it — both in terms of time and money? Do you have an adequate understanding of the work your class(es) will entail and the number of years you might have to labor at lower levels before your training pays off? When you’re eager to get started, it’s easy to overlook these questions, but doing so can lead to disappointment. Additionally, many people coming out of the legal system must contend with financial obligations like fines, court costs, mandated child support or restitution, which can make paying for and/or attending training impractical in the short-run, even if you can obtain a grant. My former student had to work two jobs for nearly a year to pay his debts before he had enough money to consider taking a course. But since he took the long-term view and didn’t expect everything to happen instantly, things worked out.
Put the work in
My sister recently started training to become a medical assistant. Right off, she ran into fellow classmates copying others’ answers, failing to do the homework or simply not putting the effort in. This won’t cut it come test time, and it’s certainly not going to work when you’re being asked to assist a doctor in a medical procedure. What’s more, when instructors hear of possible employment opportunities, they’re going to mention them to the hardest working students, not the slackers. So if you’re too busy with work and other obligations to concentrate on a course now, or you’re simply not interested in the subject matter, do yourself a favor and save your time and money.
Readers how about you? I’d love to hear from folks who have gone on to get additional training. How did you do it? What’s worked for you? Is there anything you now would do differently?