How to Pitch Your Boss on Paying for Your Next Certification

Continual learning is an important part of any IT career.

There is certainly no doubt that we live in an age of innovation and technological advancement. From the Internet of Things (IoT) to artificial intelligence (AI) to self-driving autos and beyond, one only has to look around to observe seemingly daily advances in technology.

Gone are the days when a college diploma (or in some cases, no diploma), coupled with a few years of real-world experience, prepared and equipped you with the skills necessary to enjoy a successful lifelong career. Today, the skills you learn in the first years of your training may well be obsolete by the time you hang that shiny new diploma on the wall.

Given the speed at which innovations are occurring, it's even possible that professionals may be faced with scenarios where the technology they're called upon to work with didn't exist at the time that they underwent training.

To maintain career viability, it's almost a necessity to adopt an attitude of lifelong learning and understand that, while you may be prepared to meet the requirements of your clients and employer today, you may not be prepared to face tomorrow's challenges. Post-graduation training is a fact for successful professionals.

Stay Current ... with Help from Your Boss

When it comes to ongoing training, many professionals look to certifications and their associated training to quickly learn new skills and maintain market viability. In some cases, it's not uncommon for employers to encourage, or even require, employees to obtain or maintain certain certifications as a condition of employment or continued employment.

Unfortunately, professional level certifications aren't necessarily affordable. Prices for certification exams and related training can vary widely, ranging from nominal fees to several thousands of dollars for more advanced certifications.

By way of example, the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCDP) Data Center requires candidates pass four separate exams ($300 each) to earn the certification. The CCNP Data Center requires the CCNA Data Center as a prerequisite (two more exams). Recommended training runs approximately $4,400 per five-day course. It's easy to see how certification fees could easily become cost prohibitive.

While not all certifications are this pricey, there are certainly instances when even nominal certification fees may be out of the financial reach of some professionals. Many professionals turn to employers for assistance in paying for certifications. According to Pearson VUE's The Value of IT Certification Survey 2017, 55 percent of respondents reported that their employers paid for certifications.

Even so, it can be daunting to ask your employer for funding. Fortunately, there are some simple principles you can follow to help you prepare and present your request.

1. Change your focus

While it may seem counterintuitive, certification isn't about you. It's about the benefit and business value to your organization. The benefits to you as an individual — positive impact on your career, salary increases, promotion potential, increased opportunities — are understood.

Your employer needs to understand how paying for your certification benefits the organization as well as its clients and customers. Be prepared to explain what benefit or gain the organization will reap from their investment in growing your skills.

Be factual when pitching your boss on paying for a certification.

2. Persuade with facts

Preparation is key. It's essential that you take the time to research and prepare your facts in advance so you can answer any questions your employer may have. Clearly define what you're asking for and why you're making the request. Be prepared to respond to questions such as:

What is the total cost involved? This should include the cost of everything you're requesting that the company cover, including items such as training, exam fees, travel/lodging (if required), or professional association fees.

What is the time commitment? Ensure that you clearly communicate the total time commitment involved, including exam, training, travel, and preparation.

Will productivity be impacted? If you will be off work for training or to sit for the exam, formulate a plan in advance to limit impacts to productivity.

Will this help the organization gain partner status or other benefits? Some certifications have direct benefits to the organization. Be prepared to explain the overall organizational benefits.

Is there a competitive advantage? Document the popularity of the certification in your industry sector, which competitors may use or recognize the cert, and if potential clients look for this credential in selecting service providers.

Remember, your employer is more likely to be persuaded by a well-reasoned argument than by an emotional appeal.

3. Formulate a proposal

Any request for funding should be conducted from the same perspective as you would for any other business expenditure. The proposal should be high-level but contain enough detail that your decision maker understands:

? The scope of the request
? Why you are making the request
? The total cost in terms of time and resources
? The benefits to the business organization
? Other impacts or benefits

The proposal should include information previously gathered during the research phase. Ensure the proposal addresses items such as how the organization benefits, the ROI to the organization, and the impact to industry standing.

You may also want to explain that certifications enable employees to quickly gain industry knowledge and skills that might otherwise take longer periods of time to accomplish, improve productivity, reduce risk potential, and boost client confidence. Certifications can also a way to attract new or retain existing talent.

Note: Limit the proposal to one page. Always check your organization's policies and procedures regarding training expenditures and follow those guidelines, if any.

4. Present the proposal

Always provide the decision maker with an opportunity to review the scope of the request before discussing. Prepare a simple email with a brief summary of the request, attach the proposal and forward to your manager. Be certain to follow through with an in-person meeting to discuss.

5. Negotiate

Be open to negotiation and compromise. Your employer may be facing constraints that preclude them from granting your request as initially presented. A willingness to consider alternatives may be the key to success. For example, if a week-long training is required, you might offer to take vacation time off to attend the training if the employer pays the fees.

Alternatively, perhaps the fees could be split. I once obtained approval to attend a key training by offering to teach the materials to my peers. For the next 8 weeks, I held weekly sessions where I shared what I learned with my team. Be open!

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About the Author
Mary Kyle is a freelance technology writer based in Texas.

Mary Kyle is a full-time freelance writer, editor, and project manager based in Austin, Texas. Formerly employed in various positions at IBM, Mary has more than 10 years of project management experience in IT, software development and IT-related legal issues.