If further study could improve your performance at work, your employer may be prepared to pay for it
The benefits of employer sponsorship are simple. You gain a career-advancing qualification for free or at a reduced rate, while your boss retains an employee with improved knowledge and an extended professional network.
Researching existing schemes
Many larger employers actively support employees who wish to undertake postgraduate study or a professional course, especially if their career emphasises the importance of continuing professional development (CPD). Architects, solicitors and primary school teachers, for example, are already well-versed in the strong relationship between education and work experience - and this focus on CPD continues once they're in employment.
However, companies with existing training schemes usually require employees to take specific programmes - often short courses - at particular universities or institutions. What's more, you must still convince your employer that the qualification is worth their money and your time, as your working hours are typically re-arranged around your studies.
Writing your proposal
While most graduate employers view any kind of professional development favourably, securing financial support can be difficult if your employer doesn't promote their own funding programmes.
In such cases, you'll need to approach your line manager, training department or HR department with a proposal. Similar to a business plan, this proposal forms the backbone of your argument that your chosen qualification deserves investment, and illustrates to senior staff your commitment to the idea. It should explain:
- how additional qualifications would aid your long-term development within the organisation;
- how and why postgraduate study would benefit both parties;
- which courses are relevant to your role or the wider organisation.
You must emphasise how you'll develop the skills that employers want, such as communication, problem solving, time management and decision-making, plus discuss how you'll immediately apply these to your job. You should always focus on how the qualification will help the organisation - especially from a financial point of view.
It's unlikely that your request will be approved immediately, and you should be prepared to amend your plans according to your employer's suggestions.
Also, brace yourself for rejection: there may be clear reasons why your company cannot support you. Alternatively, the organisation may not sponsor you financially but instead agree paid or unpaid leave for study.
Agreeing terms and conditions
If your employer does agree to fund or part-fund your course, you must first determine exactly how much they're willing to contribute. If you're not taking a study break, you must then arrange your working hours around your timetable, and discuss any allowance for learning materials that you may need.
You should also find out whether you'll receive leave for class attendance, revision sessions and exams, and agree on where this time will come from. It may, for example, be taken out of your annual leave.
You'll probably have to sign an agreement tying you to the organisation for a certain length of time once your programme is complete. If you leave during this period, your repayments will almost certainly be reviewed. You may even be required to fully reimburse your employer.
If you're adamant that you want to return to study, consider applying for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). This three-way alliance between a company, an academic institution and a recent graduate is the most notable alternative to employer sponsorship, with around 350 created each year.
The academic institution employs the graduate, who works at the company on an innovative and strategic business project lasting between one and three years. Graduates receive a competitive salary and gain a fully-funded professional qualification in management.