Career Center Blog

May 25, 2012

Upgrading your skills on a shoestring budget


If you're among the ranks of the unemployed at the moment, ask yourself this question: Are you becoming MORE or LESS marketable with each passing day?

Most out-of-work professionals would probably say the latter, in my experience. Once you've lost your job, it's only natural to have your confidence take a big hit, as well as for you to worry about your skills getting a bit rusty as the weeks or months of job hunting roll on.

This doesn't always have to be the case, however. If there's one thing unemployed people tend to have in abundance, it's time. And by consciously investing some of this time in skill-building and professional-development activities, you'll be able to keep your skill set razor-sharp and greatly enhance your attractiveness to potential employers.

For many unemployed Americans, the thought of going back to school is a daunting one. Perhaps you don't have the funds to afford enrolling in a traditional degree or certification program. Or perhaps you're scared off by the admission requirements or multiyear commitment some of these programs require, making further education seem like an impossible option in the short term.

Then again, this might just be a failure of the imagination. These days, unlike in decades past, there are all kinds of innovative and low-cost ways in which motivated individuals can obtain valuable training and freshen up their skills.

Let's say you've come to the conclusion that your computer skills are lagging, which might be costing you job offers. Simply jump on the web and run a quick search on the topic of "free computer training" or a similar phrase. You'll discover that:

• Microsoft has a page here that provides hundreds of free video tutorials on how to use all of its Office products, as well as Microsoft Project, SharePoint and Visio.

• New Horizons Computer Learning Centers has a page here that allows you to access a number of free webinars on Microsoft Office products, as well as additional training on topics like cloud computing and IT security.

• The highly acclaimed site provides access to more than 1,350 online courses covering topics ranging from graphic design to business management to web programming. Amazingly, many are available for free -- or you can access the entire library of training the site offers for a $25-per-month membership fee. This seems like a mind-bogglingly good deal for those who need to pick up some sexy new credentials on the cheap!

(Note: I don't have any affiliation with any of the above organizations, and this isn't a formal endorsement of their programs. They're simply representative samples of the types of low-cost training options I was able to turn up after just a few minutes of targeted web searching.)

Beyond the self-serve training websites, a growing number of universities, nonprofits and private-sector companies are also getting into the game and offering free or discounted training options to unemployed workers.

I recently stumbled across a company called Inner Architect in San Rafael, Calif., that provides free webinars on social media usage to people who can show proof of their unemployment status. Bluewolf, based in New York, provides free training on the Salesforce CRM system to unemployed IT professionals.

Locally, the Washington State Employment Security Department's Microsoft program offers more than 1,000 free online courses to WorkSource customers.

Finally, in case you haven't heard, the University of Washington has teamed up with NWjobs to sponsor the Career Spark Scholarship Program, a special initiative in which two unemployed Washingtonians will be granted scholarships for a certificate of their choice from a wide selection of the university's 100-plus professional certification programs.

I'm proud to report that UW has asked yours truly to do the honors of randomly drawing the two lucky recipient names from the pool of applications on June 7. The application deadline of May 30 is coming up fast, however, so see the link above for the eligibility guidelines and directions on how to apply, if interested.

UW Professional & Continuing Education also offers five online training courses for free, which you'll find listed here.

My hat's off to these organizations for their generosity. Bottom line: Look around and ask around. If you're seeking a certain type of training, contact the company that provides the product and ask if it is aware of (or can provide) any free or low-cost learning options for folks in transition. You might hit the jackpot.

Matt Youngquist is the president and founder of Career Horizons, a career counseling and corporate outplacement firm. Email him at

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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