The Guardian: Pay to play with pros: “Cornelia Dibua receives full funding and a graduate salary to take her accounting qualification while working as business analyst for Shell” (ShellNews.net)
Catherine Quinn suggests four methods to fund your pursuit of professional qualifications
Saturday October 2, 2004
The long road to gaining qualifications doesn't necessarily end with graduation. In fact, as the number of students graduating with good honours degrees swells, vocational qualifications are a great - in some cases, essential - way to bolster your career prospects. Yet while clocking up an accreditation specific to your professional field will impress employers, this strategy comes with one rather large caveat - it costs money.
After three or four long years racking up debt through loans and tuition fees, how does a graduate even contemplate finding the thousands of pounds needed for additional qualifications? However, with some careful research there are a number of practical avenues to fund post university training - from corporate sponsorship to bank loans.
Cornelia Dibua receives full funding and a graduate salary to take her accounting qualification while working as business analyst for Shell
The best-known route for gaining professional qualifications is by receiving financial aid from your employer. Most of the large graduate schemes will say upfront whether they are willing to fund various qualifications. Accounting and finance graduate Cornelia Dibua says she started looking for companies which sponsored accounting qualifications in her final year at university. "I looked at all the pure accountancy firms, but I also looked at Shell, and found it offered better benefits - particularly in terms of travel."
Cornelia applied and won a place on Shell's graduate training scheme, with support for a Chartered Institute of Management Accountancy (CIMA) qualification written into her contract. "I find it particularly useful that my manager is very flexible in terms of allowing me time off to study," says Cornelia. "Shell pays for my yearly membership to CIMA, as well as all my exam fees.
"I also get study leave of one to two weeks, which is paid. My degree means I have eight or nine exemptions on the course, so I expect to qualify next year. In total it's taken me a year and a half, and at the end of it I'll have a qualification which is well recognised throughout the finance industry."
Tim Aldridge qualified as a social worker with the help of a government bursary
For certain careers in the public sector, the government is willing to provide sponsorship, or bursaries to gain vocational qualifications. Sectors such as teaching, for example, attract a very reasonable support package, particularly if you're training in areas with staff shortages.
Graduates starting out on postgraduate training to gain their Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) are paid a training bursary of £6,000, or £7,000 for maths and science graduates. Other sectors such as social work offer similar assistance for training.
Tim Aldridge trained to become a social worker following on from a degree course at the University of Leeds. As he explains, the bursary he received was an essential part of his ability to get qualified. "The bursary basically paid my rent. I was also working part time while taking the course, but if it hadn't been for that extra financial assistance, it would have been much harder. I would have been working all hours to fund myself.
"I might have even had to reconsider social work as an option if I'd had to fund myself entirely."
Alison Young studies for a design GNVQ while working part time as a carer
Although many vocational qualifications are allied with employment, many can be gained independently. For graduates who want recognition in specialist career sectors, this can be one of the best ways to show commitment.
Alison Young graduated from the University of Nottingham last year with a degree in psychology, but soon realised that her vocation was in design. "After graduating I went to see a careers adviser, and she took me through the careers I might be suited to," she explains,
"Talking it through with someone else, it became clear to me that I'd never really capitalised on my aptitude for art and design. I gave it a lot of thought, because I'd just finished a three year psychology course, but deep down I think I knew that this wasn't the area for me. And I didn't want to sign up to any old graduate training course, and hope for the best.
"I did a lot of research into the courses available, and found that to get into any sort of design job I'd have to take either an art foundation, or get some kind of GNVQ. The GNVQ was more practical, so I took a GNVQ in design at Varndean College.
"The course lasts two years, and I'm working part time as a carer to support myself. The hours are flexible enough to fit round my studies, and the money's not too bad. In some ways it's frustrating to know that I'll be on student wages for the foreseeable future, but I think it's worth it to be working towards something I care about."
Jason Hall took out a bank loan to fund his training to become a pilot
For some vocational qualifications, you might find that your bank is willing to help out - if you can demonstrate that you're serious about studying HSBC, for example, offers a variety of loans for post university training. Its professional studies loan allows graduates to borrow all of their course fees, and up to £5,000 living expenses per year.
One such beneficiary is Jason Hall, whose dream of becoming a pilot looked unlikely in the face of enormous tuition fees, on top of living expenses. "When I was seventeen, I got an RAF sponsorship, which involved free flying lessons. I thought I better make the best use of it, and I got my private pilot's licence by the time I was 19. Then I went to university to study accounting, but by the time I'd graduated I'd realised it wasn't for me. I still wanted to be a pilot, and I managed to save about £12,000 after graduating. It took me a few years, and I didn't go out much.
"I needed a bank loan to cover the rest of the fees. All together, I've paid out about £38,000. I put a lot of thought into borrowing the money, and I put together a business plan which helped the bank realise I was serious.
"They agreed to lend me the money in instalments, on the basis that I showed the certificates at each stage of my course before the next instalment was paid in. I'm really glad I was able to do the course. I've been qualified for about a month, and it's really hard to get work. But hopefully I'll get a really good job in the long run."