In the modern economy, it's simply not enough to earn your degree, obtain a position, and expect to be able to retire in 20 to 30 years. Companies are constantly changing and requiring their employees to be able to update their skills at a moment's notice. Knowing how to take advantage of free professional development opportunities is the best way to help ensure that your career stays on track.
When searching for free professional development opportunities, your first stop should be your current employer's human resources department. Many larger corporations offer a number of professional development plans, ranging from informal lunchtime seminars to tuition reimbursement for classes that help to further your career goals. However, there may be length of service requirements that you must meet in order to take advantage of the most generous professional development benefits.
If you currently belong to any professional organizations, check your membership packet or the organization's Web site to see what benefits are included. Many organizations provide a wide variety of free professional development resources for their members. Magazine subscriptions, free online e-courses, and access to exclusive networking events are just some of the resources that may be available to you.
Although online learning requires a great deal of self-discipline, the Internet is a wonderful tool for people in search of free professional development opportunities. You can find courses to help you improve your writing skills or master a specific software program. There is also a wealth of information available about salaries for specific positions, negotiating a raise, and convincing your manager that you're ready for more responsibility within the company.
Depending on your field, there may be a number of professional development books available. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars ordering them from the nearest bookstore, ask your local librarian to request these materials through the inter-library loan system. There is no charge for this service and you'll generally be able to get your materials within one to two weeks.
It was once relatively rare for an experienced professional to change career fields, but this practice is becoming more common each year. Some people change professions after being laid off, while others simply decide their current occupation is no longer a good fit. The best free professional development resources for people interested in making a dramatic career change are people who've already made the switch. Look for mentors by taking part in online forums or by asking your friends and family to help you get in touch with people who may be able to provide advice regarding your new career path.