Expand Skills

One of the best ways to expand your skills can be through education and training. In this section you'll see some education options that help you expand skills. You'll see benefits for going to school. Also, you'll learn some tips to find the right education for you.

What skills should you gain or expand? Your skills are the foundation of your career. You've learned about your personal skills such as managing your personal life. You know the skills to be successful in the New World of Work. You've assessed your work skills. You've explored careers to find out the skills needed for careers. Hopefully, you put any skills you need on your career plan. This section helps you put all of these pieces together and to implement your career plan.

Why should you expand your skills?

Acquire Job Skills

Sometimes people looking for a job may not be able to go to school at the same time. If this is your situation, you can still acquire job skills without going to school. First review your job skills from your skills assessment. Next, think about which skills you can work on now. Then use the information on How to Gain Skills, and Keep Advancing Your Career for ideas on how to gain skills in a school program, on the job, or in other ways.

Why should you acquire job skills?

There are some things you can do to expand your skills now.

Resources to help you acquire job skills.

Formal Training Pays Off

Want to earn a living wage? You'll likely need more education than high school or GED. You may be looking at occupations that require a certification, degree, or specialized training.

As you weigh the pros and cons of going to school (pdf), think about how education pays. People with degrees tend to make more money and stay in their jobs.

Unemployment Rate* Education Level Typical Weekly Earnings*
12.4% Less than High School $471
8.3% High School Graduate $652
7.7% Some College, No Degree $727
6.2% Associate Degree $785
4.5% Bachelor's Degree $1,066
3.5% Master's Degree $1,300
2.1% Professional Degree $1,735
2.5% Doctorate $1,624

Source:  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012 unemployment and wage data.

How to Gain Skills

Do you have the skills and education that employers want? Not sure? Explore Careers can help you learn about employers.

One of the best ways to expand your skills is through education and training. Make sure that your education connects to occupations that fit your interests and skills.

There are five steps to help get the right education for you. The exercises will help you look at schools that fit your needs.

Step 1: Pinpoint occupations that interest you.

One of the best ways to expand your skills is through education. Make sure that your education connects to occupations that fit your interests and skills.

Use the Rank Your Occupations (pdf) worksheet  to list your desired occupations and the education needed. List the pros and cons of each. Rank them in order to help you decide.

Step 2: Look at your education options.

Here are education options for you to think about. You can ask at a library about local options. You can also talk about your options with a career coach.

An apprenticeship program is a training plan based on employers’ needs. It helps potential employees learn the skills of an occupation or trade. Students learn the standard skills in a classroom. Also, they learn on the job and sometimes get paid. Sometimes they are supported by trade or labor groups. Directory of Apprenticeship Programs
Online learning is a great option for many students. You can take one course, or you can earn a certificate or a degree. For the right students, online learning makes it easier to go to school. The Distance Education and Training Council  provide links to online education and training programs.
Adult Basic
Adult Basic Education classes are free. They help people who are 16 and older and who are not in school. Students can improve their basic skills such as reading, math, listening, and speaking. Some classes help prepare people for better jobs or for getting ready for more education. Pennsylvania Department of Education
U.S. Military The military offers hundreds of jobs to help you get skills and meet your goals.
Licenses Licenses are the required knowledge and skills for some jobs. Licenses often vary by state. It is against the law to work in these jobs without a license. These workers need to keep going to school to keep up their license. Interested students should ask if a school will prepare them for a license. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs
Degrees A degree is given by a college or university. It means that you completed a course of study. An associate’s degree usually takes 2 years or less. A bachelor’s degree usually takes 4 or more years. You may need to take classes to get ready for college. Pennsylvania Department of Education
Certifications Certifications are tests that measure your work knowledge. Some employers like hiring people with these skills. Interested students should ask if their school will prepare them for certifications. Many certifications require a degree.

Step 3: Look at what the schools offer.

Do you need to go to school? Make a list of what you want from a school or program. Then, research schools and programs that fit your list. You can use your library to find your education options.

Schools tend to tell you about strengths and may hide their weaknesses. Only you can decide if a school is the right one to help you meet your career goals.

Use the tips listed below to see if you agree with the school's claims.


Step 4: Track your research of schools.

In order to make good decisions about school, research your options. You can look online or call the school directly. Think about what you will get out of any program before you enroll in it.

Use the School Research Worksheet (pdf) to keep track of the type of training and any services each school offers students. If you are looking at more than one occupation, make a new worksheet for each one.

Step 5: Choose education options.

You've found several options that fit your goals. How do you choose? Use the results of your School Research on the Weigh Your Options (pdf) to help you make decisions. Talk over your decisions with people who are supportive of you.

Pay for Your Education

Can you afford the education you need to achieve your goals? You have many options to get training or a degree. Think about short-term actions towards your career. Start planning now how to pay for your education.

Before you apply to schools, update your budget. For help, go to How to Create a Personal Budget. Know how much you can afford to pay for training.

What are your financial aid choices?
Financial aid is money that helps you pay for school or training. Most students get money from one or more of the four kinds of aid. This aid is used to pay for your tuition, books, or other costs.

Types of Financial Aid
Grants and scholarships are awards you don't have to pay back. Grants mostly come from the government, such as the Federal Pell Grant. Scholarships can come from a school, community group, business, or the government. Some scholarships are for people who don't have much money. Others are for people who are good at sports, have good grades, or a special talent. Check with the school you want to go to for scholarships that fit you.
A loan is money you borrow. You have to pay back a loan with interest. There are many kinds of loans. Each has a different interest rate and rules. Some well-know loans are the Stafford, Perkins, PLUS, and SELF.
Work study is a job offered through the school. It helps you earn money to pay for your education.

Resources to Help You Pay for Education

Apply to School

Applying to college can help you meet your life and career goals.  Colleges have conditions for enrollment.

Do a good job on your applications. Check into tests to get into the school.  Get help from the school if you need it to apply.

Tips for Applying to College
Read your mail.
Check mail from schools immediately. A letter might tell you how to register for classes. Financial aid information might also be mailed. School letters often have important dates. Ask a career coach for help, if needed.
Choose several schools.
Apply to up to six different schools for degree programs. It's good to have a back-up plan in case your first choice falls through. If you can't afford to pay the application fees, ask if you can have them waived.
Make a checklist of each school's admission steps. Ask for help from your family or career coach to organize your lists. Most schools have application deadlines. Know what day each application is due. Ask each school what their deadlines are. Keep all of your school information in one place.

Do you need your credentials evaluated and transferred from another country?
World Educational Service can help you with that.

Keep Advancing Your Career

Successful people keep learning. At every step, think about how to expand your skills. You’ll impress employers, and you’ll feel more confident.

Expand your skills while in school.
Getting good grades is not enough to impress most employers. Get involved in activities to expand your skills now. When you graduate, you'll be better prepared to look for jobs.

Expand your skills while you are working.
Learn about the gaps in your skills, knowledge, or credentials.

Stay current in your field.
All workers should look at their skills and improve them.