How to Make a Case for Getting Training and Professional Development

trade show blurred background

It’s good to be back to having conferences, trade shows and events in person again. They started out with lower attendance numbers, but seem to be bouncing back.

Over the past few weeks, and every time trade show season rolls around, there’s a lot of discussion about paying for training, particularly in-person training. In fact, just recently I was taking part in a group discussion about training vs. travel budgets. In higher ed, the many schools I was speaking with had their training budget restored. In some cases, however, the partnering money for travel had been cut, or at least the institution was asking more questions about this expense, and why a remote conference would not be suitable.

How does one go about convincing a boss who is on the fence to spend money on training? On social media, I’ve heard some different variations of how training costs work. One is simply that their school does not pay for any training over $200 and will not send them anywhere. Others will pay for full training and travel, but have an expectation that you will stick around after this happens. In fact, they may even ask you to agree to a situation where if you leave within two years of the training, you have to pay it back to the organization, on a sliding scale of how soon you left afterward.

I made some suggestions that I will expand on here because it’s a little complicated to put into a tweet. If you are trying to get your institution to send you to training, and you think they may balk, here are some things to try. For your first opportunity, don’t ask to go to InfoComm or ISE. If your bosses are already skeptical, then certainly suggesting they pay for you to go to Las Vegas, Orlando or Spain may strike them as suspicious and a bit opportunistic. Additionally, those conferences are pretty expensive to attend.

What you could do for your first training is to find something that takes no money, only your time. Make sure you present this to your boss. Let them know that you will be attending a conference virtually, and the time commitment that it will take. Then, when it’s done, spend time with that same boss demonstrating what you have learned. That is, show them the value you have received from the conference. I believe this is the biggest failure of entry- to mid-level workers who get training. They assume that their bosses remember when they needed that same training, and therefore appreciate the need. But in fact, many senior people in organizations are pretty far removed from their technical training days. These upper-level managers may also get very different things out of a conference than what an entry- or mid-career technician would. They may be looking to build business relationships with vendors and partners, so spend almost all of their time networking, or making actual deals. They probably have a hard time thinking about why you would need to do that. I always ask for 20-30 minutes with my supervisors when I return from any type of training. During that time, I tell them what I learned, how it will change what I am doing (or how it confirmed we are doing it correctly), who I got to meet and how all of that will benefit our organization.

My next suggestion if you are looking to get in-person training is to start with a smaller, regional conference. There are a number of organizations across the country that put on regional shows, ranging from full conferences to single-day road shows. Pick one of these, and explain to your supervisor why you want to go and what you expect to get out of it. Put yourself in their shoes. If you had someone come to you and say they wanted to travel overnight to a conference on AV, you would likely ask questions. If the answer was general, e.g., “I just want to learn something,” you would likely think that’s not a great answer. This would probably go over better: “With the new building going up in the fall, we’re going to be a need to upgrade the digital signage network. This show is going to have a number of digital signage vendors and developers and you want to investigate your options before you invest money.” You also tell them that you intend to have a summary of what you learned ready for them within a week of returning. Now you’ve just presented a really great case. As you continue to show that there is a positive return on investment in your training to the organization (or to the boss), it will become easier and easier to get permission to attend.

What happens when your boss still refuses to spend any money? Well, you’re in a pretty tough spot in that case and the options become more difficult. Personally and professionally, you can’t really go for years without any training. So, you’ll need to decide whether to pay for training on your own, or use connections in the industry to help you get training (remember about that PRISM scholarship from HETMA?) The other option you have is always easier said than done: You need to find a new place to work. An organization, or a leader who doesn’t pay for professional development for their people, particularly in a technical industry like AV, is not a place you want to be long-term. They’re either struggling financially, and without training that won’t get better, or they don’t value their employees. Neither bodes well for your future there so spend some time sharpening that resume.