Thursday, March 12, 2009
Going back to school may be necessary when faced with a job loss, particularly if working in an industry with little prospects of securing a new job. While many companies are laying-off workers, they are also including educational benefits as part of severance packages. If your employer does not offer such a benefit, fear not, as there are other ways to retrain for a new career.
Before deciding on any career, research jobs in your area to find "hot jobs" with numerous openings. Focus on industries offering competitive pay or a higher salary than your previous job. Be realistic in your goals though: to go from a mailroom employee to company CEO will require many years of education and hard work. Find industries/careers with room for advancement, hours suited for your family's schedule and careers with benefits/retirement plan options. Track these job openings for a few weeks to make sure the same vacancy isn't reappearing every week for numerous weeks. Write a list of the job, salary and educational qualifications. Average these together to get a rough estimate of what you need to bring to the table and to get an idea of expected compensation.
After narrowing the list down, check local colleges for training options. Write down program length, cost and number of credits. If you have previous college coursework, verify classes needed against previous classes taken to get an idea of approximate costs and completion time for a new degree. Courses will usually transfer if they were taken at a regionally-accredited college. The exceptions are usually developmental courses and some computer courses that are a few years old.
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Even if it you are given a severance package, you may want to consider trying for some additional help. Apply for financial aid with the selected college(s). While this can be done online, due to a change in employment status and income, you will need to meet with the college's financial aid division to meet with an advisor and discuss financial aid options. You may be eligible to apply for financial aid immediately if you can prove a reduction of income, but first you may have to visit a vocational counselor at your local employment office. Be sure to bring proof of your current household income, last year's income taxes, and statement from your company proving you were laid-off. The faster you apply for financial aid from becoming laid-off the better, as the dates of your lay-off will be closer to the dates you are applying for help.
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If you are filing for unemployment, be sure to inquire about educational benefits for job retraining while you are there. Whether you have a high school diploma or advanced degree, there may be training options designed to help you find a new career. While there, investigate loan forgiveness programs designed to assist student loan payback such as critical-shortage teaching areas, government jobs, military service and government healthcare workers. Yes, you may have to borrow a loan; however, the prospect of having a job with benefits may outweigh the initial shock of taking out a student loan. Remember, student loan interest is tax-deductible, so taking out a student loan does have its advantages during tax time; especially when combined with the Hope and Lifetime Learning educational credits.
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After starting college, look into work-study programs. When retraining, many colleges offer work-study programs as part of an overall financial aid package, however, unemployed workers can use this to their advantage for those that receive financial aid, as well as those who do not qualify. While work-study students receive priority gaining on-campus jobs, student assistants in larger colleges are hired sometimes without receiving financial aid. This is dependent on the institution's overall size, finding and student enrollment. Student employment not only helps to transition the unemployed worker back to the workforce, but allows work experience in a relevant field while earning a paycheck. Note: some schools require a waiting period of one term before starting work study. It depends on the school. Also, there may be minimum requirements of at least six credits taken per term and at least a "C" average ("A" average for tutoring jobs).
Finally, review how long any help is for, and plan accordingly. Check your severance package. For laid-off workers who received a severance package, educational benefits may be included in the severance package. Contact the Human Resources department to find out how to take advantage of this job retraining including amounts covered and term limits. You may also want to discuss open positions elsewhere in the company or at other locations incase you wish to retrain and rejoin the company again working in a different capacity. If you enjoyed working for the company, ask about doing your internship there; especially if there are prospects to return to the company. If you happen to be at the right place at the right time, securing a new job should be easy.
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Even better, to help save on gas, try to do your internship at the college. There are many departments from IT to subject areas, to accounting. Being able to graduate and secure a job with your school means increased educational benefits to help further your education.