Many of us would like to take advantage of the numerous workshops and conferences available in order to further our knowledge and professional growth. However when it comes to convincing our employers to sponsor these events some of us find it difficult to justify the expense to our employer. Some of us also complain that their bosses do not take interest in their professional growth, learning and development.

I believe that organisations have a responsibility in the training and development of their employees. Not only because these employees are an integral part of the organisation and act as representatives, but also because good employees help the organisations grow (in a similar way that bad employees may ruin an organisation’s reputation).

If you are considering asking your employer to pay for your external training, a conference, or a similar event, then here are a few things that will assist you in being well prepared to make a compelling case before you approach your boss.

Convincing yourself first
First of all, ask yourself why you want to attend the event and what’s in it for you. Do you want to attend the event because it actually adds value to you and your employer or is it because your colleagues from another department attended a conference last year and you just want to settle the score? Are you convinced that it is good for you to attend this training or conference, or are you looking for a couple of easy days off work? If the objective is not clear to you and you are not convinced then you will not be able to convince others; specifically those who you want to pay for your attendance. Do your homework and learn about the event as much as you can before approaching your managers. Consider how the event will improve you as an employee.

Finding out about the event
Before you know how the event can benefit both you and your employer, you need to understand what the event is offering. Here are some ideas on how to conduct your research:

  1. Google it. Find and read all reviews & feedback. What are others saying about it? Did people like it and recommend it? Why did they like it and what value did they get out of it?
  2. Learn about the speakers or trainers. Are they known for their skills in the industry? Are they local or international? Do they organise or participate in any other events? In other words, check out the credibility of the people you’re paying to listen to.
  3. Ask others who have experienced it before. Connect with other members of your industry and ask what events they have participated in themselves. Ask what they think about the speakers or trainers, even if they haven’t been to this event.
  4. Connect with the organiser(s). Contact the person collaborating and organising the event. Find out what they hope the event will deliver and what the key takeaways will be.

What to include in the request (your business case)
Now that you know what the event will do for you, ask what’s in it for your employer. Every employer or manager has a budget set for the year and training, conferences or similar events are often a low priority for them (sad, isn’t it?). In most cases, managers have to justify the benefits of these events to someone else in the organisation. It may be a senior manager, an accountant or a finance team member or even an auditor. Therefore, it is important that you present a convincing and strong argument to them.

A good way of coming up with a business case is asking yourself “if I was the approving manager and someone had come to me with this request, would I have approved it?” Your employer will be thinking about much more than just the value that the event will add to you. Does the company benefit by your presence? Would you be able to meet potential clients and spread good word about your company? Will you be able to share this knowledge with other members for your team?

It is also worth considering the frequency of the training or conference. If it is a high profile training course (I consider Rapid Software Testing to be such a course) or an annual conference, you may add to the business case that if you miss the event it may be a year or more before there is another opportunity to do so.

Find out whether there are any other similar events available to attend (similar here meaning in content, trainer reputation or ideas generated/learned at the event) that may help in moving to a more positively radical or innovative work environment. The event may be unique and may not compare with any other events offered. Adding this information to your request may help.

Also find out whether attending that event gives you or your employer an edge over others in the industry. For example, if everyone is delivering using a lengthy documented process, your experience of effective delivery through visualisation models may make you (and your employer) appear different from the crowd.

It might be useful to add to the request that if you are allowed to attend, you may be able to train others or share your experience with others who might benefit from it. Or that you would be able to make changes to the existing systems, practices or processes that might have positive impact on the business.

When you ask your boss for the privilege of training, ensure you make your case legibly, easy to understand, balanced and un-emotional (note that this is not the same as emotionless). My personal experience is that short, to-the-point sentences in bullet points make it easier for managers to read and assess.

Hopefully you will not need to explain this much to your boss, but if you have to then ask “If you were a carpenter, would you invest in upgrading your tools?” Just as a carpenter sharpens their tools, a tester needs to sharpen their minds.

Your sponsorship request failed, now what?
You did everything that should have convinced your boss, but for some reason your request was not approved. If you feel that by not getting sponsorship you are losing an important opportunity to learn or network, then probably it’s time you think about this situation from a different angle.

If you are convinced of the value of attending the conference or training, then you could consider paying for it yourself. At first it might look like a significant amount, but don’t you think a good investment would pay a good reward? If yes, then why shy away from investing in it yourself? You are doing it for yourself, aren’t you?

Be aware of HR and other relevant policies
Check if there are any company policies that you can benefit from. For example, you may be allowed to take paid leave for attending external training or maybe you are allowed to go for training without using annual leave. The best way to find out is to speak to your manager or the HR team.

Checkout if there are any government policies that you can take advantage of. For example, Australian Taxation Office (ATO) allows people to claim expenses on professional courses, trainings and seminars. Speak to your accountant or look at ATO website for more information about this.

Why self-investing might go in your favour
If you are considering a job change, then attending professional growth events can be a great investment, even if you need to pay from your own pocket. Firstly, you do not want your employer to pay for something which you know they will not benefit from. Don’t ever let go of your ethics for short term profit. Secondly, if they pay for your attendance and then you leave shortly afterwards then your manager may not be inclined to give you a good reference.

You may meet potential hiring managers at the events and you may feel more confident talking to them, especially if it is an event where you expect senior managers from other companies to visit or if you notice companies attending that might be looking for people.
Remember that this is your career and no one but you is ultimately responsible for it.  Your employer’s and manager’s interests are secondary. No one cares about your career as much as you do. So if you think that doing something extra would help you do better, do not hesitate. Money well spent is money well earned.