Many companies offer tuition reimbursement but employees rarely take advantage of it, either because they don’t know it’s available or they’re not sure of how to approach it. Becoming a valuable asset by strengthening or building new skills is a win-win for employees and employers alike. In this post, I’ll share tips and strategies to start the conversation and close the deal.
I approached my boss about taking a design class at University of the Arts during our site redesign last year. I made it clear aesthetics wasn’t my strong suit and it would help me do a better job with the project and others coming up. Coupled with the steps I outline below, my request was granted and I was able to take the $545 eight-week class for free.
I’ve brought up the concept to a few Girl Develop It members. Our classes are $10 to $14 an hour and it should be an easy win to ask for compensation. So far, every member that has tried has been successful. For those that are a little apprehensive, the process is similar to a negotiation. It requires pre-planning to prepare and negate any issues that may appear.
Step 1: Have a plan
- Align it with a project and lead with the interests of the company. Your chance of success will increase if your proposal is framed in terms of benefits to your coworkers or your company.
- Demonstrate how your new skills will increase productivity and revenue. In my case, I mentioned our project pipeline and how improving my design skills will help us when we create new tools, redo our mailings, revamp other elements and so on.
- Show studies of how it will impact the company in a positive way. These two links from NBER and eHow explain how tuition reimbursement attracts new talent, increases loyalty, reduces turnover, creates advancement opportunities, and improves productivity. No one can argue with stats!
Step 2: Anticipate problems that may arise
- Reassure her or him you will not leave right afterwards. It’s a valid concern and you can offer to sign a contract if necessary (and if you’re comfortable with the idea).
- Let them know it won’t impact your time at work. The last thing an employer wants to do is sign off on something that will take you away from your responsibilities, regardless of the long-time benefits. Look for options that allow you to attend night or weekend classes.
- Guarantee a good grade. My company’s policy required I pay for the class upfront and my level of reimbursement directly correlated with my grade. A “B” or higher provided me with the full compensation while a “C” would give me half. A lower grade would mean I would NOT be reimbursed. It’s a fair policy as it ensures employees are taking the course seriously despite not paying out of pocket.
- Offer to train other employees. As an added side-benefit, you can also suggest teaching other employees your newfound abilities to save money & to help them boost their talent.
When the answer is “No”
- Offer to split the cost. When it’s clear the answer is no and you really want to attend a class, suggest dividing the bill before you pull out your check or credit card.
- Don’t give up. If the answer is still no, try again in a few months when the right opportunity arises. You’ve already won because you’ve showed initiative and your boss will file this away mentally for your next performance.
It doesn’t have to be a long or nerve-wracking conversation. Bring it up during a status meeting or when the right moment presents itself. The more you focus on the benefits and advantages it’ll provide to your employer, the more successful you’ll likely be. What do you really have to lose?