If you're planning to ask your employer to cover your postgrad tuition fees, the first thing you need to do is put yourself in their position.
What is the benefit to the organisation? How will this improve your performance and, by extension, their bottom line? What are the potential downsides for the company?
You'll have to address those concerns if you want to convince them that their financial support is actually an investment in you and in the company.
Start by doing your research.
You're going to have to address any concerns up front. Your employer won't want you to miss work or to suffer a drop in performance due to your additional workload.
Look for online, part-time or blended learning postgraduate courses that are designed to facilitate people who are working.
University of Limerick, for example, specialises in programmes blended with industry needs to minimise disruption in the workplace. “We have developed many programmes jointly with industry. It’s something we do well and work hard at,” says Dr Ann Ledwith, Dean of Graduate and Professional Development at UL.
(She points to one UL student posted mid-programme to the Far East who was able to continue his studies online and even sit his exam in the local embassy.)
To further strengthen your case, explain the value of this postgraduate programme to the organisation and how it will make you a more valuable asset. It will improve your skills, expand your knowledge or prepare you to move up to the next level. It will educate you on best practice or the latest industry standards.
Refer to specific examples of how the course can be applied to your day-to-day work and stress the advantages for the business.
“Our professional masters programmes are designed for people in the workplace. You’ll have a lot of project work based on the student’s own organisation. There are often very positive spin-offs for the company,” Ann says.
Industry-focused learning programmes also enable students to solve problems or improve productivity in their own organisations.
“We’ve seen where students have done projects that have addressed issues and challenges in the organisation. And that can work out very, very positively for companies,” she adds.
“They will review what’s going on throughout the organisation. They will bring some of the theory in the programme to their workplace which can provide a new insight into a particular process. The students’ learning sifts back into the organisation.”
Research the business case to support you discussion with your employer. There is plenty of ammunition on the benefits of further education to companies, such as the famous study of Cigna's education-reimbursement programme. For every dollar Cigna spent on tuition, it earned a return of $1.29. Promotions of participating workers rose by 10 percent and staff turnover declined by 8 percent, demonstrating that this was an investment in the company as well as in the workers concerned.
Another study noted that every 10 percent increase in educational attainment within a company's workforce upped productivity by 8.6 percent.
Paying for the further education of your workers is also a wonderful employee engagement and retention tool in an era when it is increasingly hard to keep staff and ever-more expensive, and risky to hire new. Don’t be shy about pointing out how enrolling you in an MBA programme will tie you to the company for years to come.
It can also help meet another HR challenge: succession planning. Home-grown talent already steeped in company culture are a valuable resource. Courses like MBAs are specifically designed to develop leadership material that can make you an asset for the organisation.
And the clincher? If you pick the right post-graduate programme, it could save money – even a multiple of what the programme costs.
“Most of our masters programmes have a thesis involving a project or a piece of independent research,” says Ann Ledwith. “With our Msc in Lean Sigma Systems that has always aimed to give savings of €100k (or 0.3% of turnover for SMEs).”
When research and learning is blended with industry practice, there are huge benefits to be gained. An example could be cost savings through inventory reduction to the value of €100,000, or an increase in machine efficiency by 5% - or a reduction process cycle time by 10%. The cost benefits of even small efficiencies in large companies can be enormous.
One of the best ways to convince your employer to invest in you is to show them why you are invaluable to the business. If you can consistently perform at a high level, surpass all your KPIs and show your commitment to the firm, it can be a powerful incentive for your boss to support you.
You could even establish post-study KPIs as an added incentive if you want to show how confident you are in the benefits of this postgraduate course. Committing to setting performance targets is one way to demonstrate your belief in your case and to reduce the risk to the business.
Finally, don’t be shy about making an approach to your employer about furthering your education. It shows you are driven, ambitious - and loyal. And an investment in your education is an investment in the business.
University of Limerick