For Many Jobless, It's Back to School
True, going without a paycheck during more than two years of schooling cost Christopher his house and car. But many buddies who opted for different retraining routes are still jobless. His retraining "actually worked better than I hoped," Christopher says. "I have no regrets."
Research shows that a substantial struggle followed by an eventual recovery is typical for the jobless who go back to school. Those who spend their downtime learning new skills typically earn less than their nonretrained counterparts initially, but they get more raises and generally earn more within three years. Much, however, depends on the type and quality of the retraining program.
Finding the right program
Retraining programs that don't teach well or impress employers waste not only precious time but scarce dollars since federal education grants generally support only a first bachelor's degree. One exception: study for a teaching certificate (box).
Picking the right program can be a challenge since there are few job openings to train for these days, and it's hard to predict which industry will implode next. The demand for retraining is so great that many reputable and affordable programs are swamped. Community colleges, usually the first stop for anyone seeking retraining, are sometimes turning away students.
Some charlatans have sensed an opportunity in the voracious demand for retraining and have started programs that make too-good-to-be-true promises of certifications and lucrative jobs in just a few weeks. Experts and workers who have retooled themselves say there are three steps to choosing a good program.
Focus on the future.
Basic 21st-century business skills such as accounting and technology are safe bets, says
Stick with accredited and reputable programs.
Beat the crowds.
Apply as early as possible. At
How to pay for retraining
Paying for retraining can be especially daunting for anyone who has lost income. But there are five ways to fund training without going broke.
Apply for financial aid.
Anyone of any age who is enrolled in an accredited degree-granting college program has a chance at getting some aid. Colleges' financial aid officers can tell applicants what's available. A handful of colleges are even offering free or discounted tuition to the unemployed. Generally, the first step is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. That qualifies most students for low-cost federal education loans of up to
Collect tax benefits.
Single filers with incomes below
Apply for government funds.
Partly because there's not enough retraining funding to meet demand, counselors at local government offices known as one-stop career
centers generally require applicants to first try job searches, résumé updates, and other efforts before retraining. Many communities are so swamped with applicants that their job centers have long waiting lists. Apply as soon as possible, advises
Look for free programs.
Though not as impressive to employers as certificates or degrees, informal skills updates are often free. One-stop career centers and community organizations offer many free classes. Some prestigious universities, such as
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Careers - For Many Jobless, It's Back to School
(c) 2010 Emily Brandon, U.S. News & World Report