In a tough economy, the tendency is to hunker down at your job — if you still have one — and hold on for dear life.
But the truth is, now might be the right time to branch out and learn something new that will boost your employability.
“For many people, especially those 40 and up, new training helps them compete with younger workers who are assumed to have the latest skills,” says Tory Johnson, CEO of the career-coaching firm Women for Hire and co-author of Will Work from Home: Earn the Cash — Without the Commute (Berkeley 2008).
You might even consider training for a new career in a field that’s in-demand more than your current one.
But before you do, consider the costs of retraining. Just because you invest time and money doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a job.
Ask about a program’s job-placement assistance — and track record — before signing up.”
Here are four great ways to gain more skills without spending much:
Explore the possibilities
Check out a current list of the 50 most in-demand occupations, learn how much they pay and exactly what training is needed at Career Voyages, a Web site run by the Department of Labor.
There, you’ll get an in-depth overview of many growth industries, such as health care or homeland security, and can even see videos of what being a pharmacy technician, for example, is really like.
Fill in your gaps
Do you want to work in an office, but your computer skills are rusty — or nonexistent?
Take a class to catch up. Find free or cheap courses at your state’s unemployment office, community college or YMCA. CareerOneStop, a government program, also offers free skills development workshops and training courses.
You can also find free online tutorials for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and many other popular office products at the Microsoft Web site.
Take online classes at top universities — for free
Learn how to create your own iPhone app from Stanford University, market yourself and your business with Web 2.0 tools from Utah State or explore Introduction to Computer Programming, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging or any of the other 1900 courses offered by MIT.
You can find many other free courses at the Open Courseware Consortium.
You won’t get academic credit, but these classes are great things to put on your resume or mention at a job interview.
Get your degree online
If the lack of a college diploma is holding you back, you can complete it from home, at night, on weekends or whenever it’s most convenient for you, with an accredited online college or university.
Bonus: A virtual school is much less expensive than a brick-and-mortar one, and many offer financial aid.
You’ll find several hundred listed at eLearners, offering degrees in almost every field.
One caveat: Before enrolling, check out the university’s career services program to make sure they actually place students in companies you’re interested in.
Consider an externship
If you’re able to work at little or no pay for a short period, an externship (an internship for people who are no longer students) could be your foot in the door at a company or industry that’s new to you.
Simply go online and search “externship,” and you’ll find thousands of listings in almost any field.
Most externships last from three to six months. In that time, you’ll gain valuable experience to add to your résumé, new contacts and an idea about whether this industry is right for you in the long run.
Also consider targeting a particular company you’re interested in and pitching yourself as an extern.
Temp while you train
In this case, you can earn while you learn. Some temp agencies provide great afterhours training to their workers.
For example, Kelly Services, one of the biggest temp agencies in the world, offers registered temps online courses such as “Basics of Selling,” “Mastering Cold Calls” and “Presentation Skills” through its Kelly Learning Center.
If you’re an accounting or finance professional, the Robert Half recruitment agency provides free continuing professional education to registered candidates (aka temps).
It offers hundreds of online courses covering accounting, financial analysis and budgeting and financial management.