Whether you want to give your current career a boost or kick start a whole new vocation, signing up for a course can help you on your way to achieving your goals.
A study by London Economics found that holding a professional qualification can increase lifetime earnings by an average of £81,000.
It's not just about putting more money in your pocket, going on a course will enable you to develop your skills, create new contacts and increase your recognition in the work place.
"All this will improve your specialist knowledge and career prospects," says Margaret Collister from Prospects, which provides careers advice and opportunities to students and graduates. "Keeping your skills and abilities relevant and up to date with also ensure you meet your employers' expectations of continual professional development."
Joanne Williams signed up for a Level 3 NVQ Certificate in Business and Administration alongside her full time job as Clinical Governance Facilitator at the NHS Trust Hastings. The Trust has been going through a major restructure, and Joanne felt the training would help secure her future and build her confidence.
She also wanted to revisit her functional skills, which she hadn't assessed since taking her 'O' levels at school.
"With what I've learned from my apprenticeship so far, I've already been able to introduce improvements to the quality of documents I produce, and even to the simplest of things such as my e-mail communications," says Joanne.
"I also believe that I'm able to plan better, and can potentially use my increased knowledge to introduce more efficient working practices. In continually improving my work products, I foresee that I'll be able to increase my reputation throughout the organisation which - alongside obtaining this NVQ qualification - can only help to increase my future job prospects."
There are hundreds of professional bodies in the UK, offering numerous courses, but you don't have to receive a recognised qualification at the end in order to reap the benefits.
Phillip Jones, Senior Designer at Good Egg Design, recently attended a Mary Gober course entitled 'From Good to Great'. Its aim is to improve customer service, by to developing "positive, solution-focused people". Phillip says the course not only improved the way he communicates at work, but also the way he relates to his family and friends.
"The most surprising thing was that I attended the course to help with my professional life but found I learnt an enormous amount of useful techniques that I can use in my family life too," he says.
Many companies offer in-house training for staff, or they will be pay to send you on a course. After all, it's also beneficial for them to have staff with the right skills and training.
Hannah Smith, HR Director at Madgex, says they actively encourage their staff to suggest and attend conferences that would benefit them professionally and personally.
"We strongly believe in looking after our people and invest in their on-going development to ensure they reach their full potential," she says. "If we agree together that development is needed then we really make it happen. What's good for the individual is good for Madgex."
Speak to your HR manager for advice on training you can receive at work, and how it will help you progress within the company. All you need to do is turn up with an open mind and a sharp pencil.
However, if you are looking to invest in yourself, whether you want a change in career or a step up the employment ladder, there are more courses than you can shake a marker pen at.
So how do you find the one for you? Speaking to the professional body of your chosen career is a good place to start, as is the Federation of Awarding Bodies. You should also speak to people who have been on the course to get a better idea of what you're signing up to.
According to Margaret at Prospects there are four key factors you need to consider:
- Fees and the availability of funding
- The reputation of the course provider
- The potential impact of the course on your employment prospects
- Student satisfaction
Whether you are attending a course through your company, or under your own steam you need to be prepared to put in the hard work in order to reap the rewards.
"It's important to recognise that L&D (learning and development) is not only about attending a training course or conference," says Hannah from Madgex. "Everyone must 'own' their personal L&D journey."