Prepare for rewarding careers through continuing ed and workforce development programs

Granite State employers are eager to fill good-paying jobs. They just need to find skilled candidates.

The right education, guidance and training can create that candidate, and that opportunity.

Employers’ needs have evolved, and the need for a skilled workforce is vital. Students mapping out their future — or parents advising young students — can take advantage of a number of New Hampshire-based continuing education and workforce development programs to help them solidify their post high school careers.

We spoke to three experts who can guide parents and students as they weigh their options. From what to look for in a continuing education program to the best way to hone new skills and even how to pay for continuing education, our panel provides invaluable expertise.

Our experts:

Dr. Johnna Herrick-Phelps oversees Graduate Studies and Professional Development at Granite State College . As a former business owner and mother of a teenager, Johnna offers great insights into how education can help you get back to work.

Christie Dunlavey is the adult education coordinator and human resources program manager at the Virtual Learning Academy in Exeter.

Kristine Dudley is the director of the Workforce Development Center at Manchester Community College.

What should I look for in a continuing education program?

Herrick-Phelps : “Continuing education comes in two primary categories: degree programs and professional development. First, you’ll need to decide which option is best for you. The job market is competitive and if you don’t already have a college degree, your resume could be easily overlooked by a hiring manager. When searching for the right college, it’s important to find a transfer-friendly school that will maximize any previous college credits you’ve already earned. External recognition is also a good sign: Granite State College was recently ranked in Washington Monthly magazine’s list of Best Colleges for Adult Learners and U.S. News & World Report’s best online bachelor’s programs.

“If you already have a certain level of education and experience, professional development workshops can be a great fit. They offer an accelerated format so you can quickly and efficiently gain new skills or sharpen existing qualifications. In either scenario, look for high-quality, affordable programs with flexible schedules, such as online courses, so you can be sure that your new commitment will fit your busy schedule.”

Dunlavey: “Life is unpredictable. While looking for a continuing education program it is important to consider the flexibility of the program. At VLACS our Adult Education students can work at the time, place and pace that works best for them. Another critical element to consider is the level of support the program provides. At VLACS our Adult Education students work one on one with an instructor for each course. This one on one support allows for individualized support and helps students to reach their goals.”

Dudley: “Convenient and flexible scheduling is very important, as well as flexibility in the learning style and pace of the program. In choosing a continuing education program, students should opt for the learning style that works best for them. It may be in-class, self-paced online, or a mix of both.  The student should consider all options and make a careful choice about what will work for their lifestyle.”

Where should I start if I’m interested in both a degree and professional development?

Herrick-Phelps: “Professional development serves as a low-risk way to explore a subject that interests you. It can also help refresh the study habits and time management techniques you’ll need as a student, so when you’re ready to tackle a degree, you’ll be 100 percent prepared. Career counseling can also help define your goals. At Granite State, we offer career services free of charge to our current students and alumni, but also potential students who are trying to map out their next move.”

What is the difference between a credit and a non-credit course?

Dudley: “The main difference between credit and non-credit courses is that credit courses are designed for students with the intent of earning college credit toward a degree or certificate. Students may have goals of working toward a future career that requires a degree or certificate to gain employment. Students taking credit courses receive a letter grade. Non-credit courses are designed for students who want to learn a new skill or upgrade an existing skill. This may be for many reasons, including personal development, professional development or potentially to gain employment in a new career. Non-credit courses may or may not assign grades, but in the end it is more about passing or not passing the course. Finally, I believe that many students who continue on the path of non-credit courses do so because they have a commitment to life-long learning.”

Dunlavey: “When you enroll in a course you will talk with your course instructor about your intent. Are you interested in earning a credit for this course or taking this course for enrichment? If you are interested in taking a course for credit there will be specific competency assessments within the course that you must complete to demonstrate your proficiency.”

What are the benefits to completing a continuing education program?

Herrick-Phelps: “For those returning to work, continuing education is a great way to fill any perceived ‘gaps’ in your resume with knowledge and proof that you’ll be an asset in the workplace. For example, if you’re a stay-at-home parent, your entire day is filled with planning, scheduling and budgeting. These are the fundamentals of project management. This just so happens to be a highly marketable skill among employers, so taking a workshop on project management, or a similar topic, will teach you how to apply your expertise in a professional environment.”

Dudley: “There are many benefits to completing a continuing education program, however it begins with identifying one’s individual goals. Some of the benefits include gaining new knowledge, skills and abilities, engagement with other students, obtaining a credential needed to enter a certain field of work or just for the sake of having fun learning something new. I believe that the bottom line on the work that we do in continuing education is that it satisfies an individual’s commitment to life-long learning.”

Can I afford it?

Herrick-Phelps: “Education is certainly an investment, but you shouldn’t rule it out. Adult students are eligible for financial aid to finance a college degree. And there are certain scholarships designed for helping non-traditional students over the age of 25.”

How can I involve my employer in continuing my education?

Herrick-Phelps: “Your employer can be an incredible resource. More than 50 percent of employers offer undergraduate tuition assistance. If you pursue professional development, federal financial aid doesn’t cover these costs, but the price point is more affordable. Employers often have staff development funds for ongoing training that can be applied to the cost of attending a professional development workshop. Ask your HR representatives for advice.”

Dunlavey: “VLACS is looking to partner with employers to help businesses boost employee engagement and retention. Please feel free to contact for more information.”