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Learning for Work

Additional studies can increase your value in a competitive job market

The job market is a highly competitive place. Shrinking economies, global competition, computers and mechanisation all mean that there's an ever-increasing pressure on people to be more skilled. This applies as much to those who're already employed as it does to people who're out looking for a job. The outcome is that wherever you are in your career path, you should potentially be considering some additional studies to increase your value.

There are many different options available to you, depending on what you believe your needs are. In fact, the array of choices may present a challenge to you. Fortunately, there's free advice available on skills acquisition and careers from the National Careers Service. They have an online presence where you can interact with advisors, you can meet with them in person, or you can call them on 0800 100 900 and discuss your options on the phone.

It's certainly worth doing, because depending on your circumstances, there are opportunities to qualify for financial assistance for study purposes. There are also certain courses and options which are free, and many which are designed specifically for people looking for work. Others are aimed at people currently employed and looking to “skill up”; while yet others are about changing your career direction.

Options for Work Seekers

There are several Jobcentre Plus programmes tailored for people looking to enter or get back into the job market. New Deal is one of these, and you'll be interviewed about your interests, aspirations and goals, and what experience and training you have before they decide on the correct strategy for you. This could include funding or an allowance for tuition fees, books, travel and even childcare to help you with your studies. There are also schemes to help you if have any disabilities or dependencies which hamper your ability to get a job.

Work placement programmes are also available, and another of the options is an apprenticeship. If you have the interest and the aptitude for a particular career, you can be placed with an experienced person in that field to learn directly from them as an assistant. There are apprenticeships available for nearly 250 different types of job. These on-the-job-training opportunities last between 1 and 4 years, and you earn money while gaining the relevant skills, or even an industry-recognised qualification.

There are various levels of apprenticeship, but all require a basic level of numeracy and literacy. In some cases, the requirement can be for slightly more advanced English and Mathematics skills, and quite often you'll be expected to have a certain standard of Information Technology (IT) knowledge – at least basic computer skills. If that presents a challenge, there are bridging courses available to ensure that you're brought up to the required standard.

The National Careers Service can also be of great assistance. They have learning systems in place that help you to deal with the process of job seeking. These include how to create a high-impact CV, how to conduct yourself in interview situations, and how to assess and communicate what your strengths and aptitudes are.

Options for People Already in Work

Improving your job satisfaction or increasing your income through promotion or by changing the course of your career path can be a difficult process to manage – especially while you still need to produce results in the job you're currently doing.

It's not all an uphill battle though, as most employers can see the benefits of having a highly skilled workforce. You may find that your employer already has a basic or advanced skills training programme in place already. If you're with a company that employs more than 250 people, they're in fact obligated to allow you time to gain additional skills. This is called the 'time to train' system and applies if you've been working for an organisation of that size for 26 weeks or more. For this reason, they may even have their own bursary or funding schemes in place where you'd agree to remain with them for a period of time after gaining your new skills or qualification in return for them subsidising or even covering your costs. There's also a voluntary corporate programme called Investors In People, where employers actively identify potential talent and ensure that those people are nurtured and trained. Their status as one of these organisations has a range of benefits for them.

The benefits for you can also be substantial if you work for one of these companies. The training opportunities which they will provide access to will have been assessed as top quality programmes, there will be a scheme associated with this policy that specifically directs you towards more career opportunities. There'll also be a firm commitment to monitoring and ensuring that your job satisfaction is improved, as well as health and wellbeing support.

If your employer isn't geared towards helping you in your desire to improve your knowledge and skills, there are a number of avenues that you can pursue on your own. The National Career Service is one of the places to find out as much information as possible. They are aware of the pressures and obligations which relate to your circumstances, and will have practical advice on how best to proceed. One of the options they might suggest, and one which you should be examining anyway, is higher education.

Higher education institutions have a wide variety of courses available, complete with programmes for helping you to access them on a part-time or evenings-only basis. They even have systems in place to facilitate access to their degrees, diplomas and certificates for those people who don't have the qualifications normally required to participate in these courses. There may even be a way to use your current employment as the practical component of one of these qualifications.