According too an article on Harvard Business Review, an analysis of over 1200 young achievers (30-something managers) revealed that employers generally satisfied their need for increased responsibility and promotion opportunities. But “they’re not getting much in the way of formal development, such as training, mentoring and coaching”.
In my experience, knowing this and convincing your boss or HR on the merits of training is quite different. Their primary concern is the company’s bottom line, not your job satisfaction. But with the right techniques and scripts you can build a compelling case.
First, download our free PDF worksheet on how to negotiate paid training, which will help you take action on the strategies you’ll learn here.
1. Investigate the Company’s Guidelines
Check your employee handbook, local intranet, and HR materials for existing policies on employee training. Each company is different but these are the possible scenarios you can expect:
- There’s no policy on training activities but it doesn’t mean they don’t encourage it. The budget is either limited or they can’t spare the manpower.
- A clear cut policy on the types of training covered, including reimbursable and out-of-pocket expenses, employee bonds, and other constraints.
- The company has an explicit policy stating they don’t cover any training.
If there are no documented guidelines, ask someone from HR a few questions:
- “Has the company ever paid for an employee’s additional training?”
- “Was the employee sent to represent the company or drum up new business?” Ask this question in case the approved activity wasn’t tied to actual work. Find out if your employer is willing to invest in activities that won’t net a direct return on investment (ROI) immediately.
- “What were the circumstances surrounding the previously sponsored training?” Was the training necessary to keep up with the job or advance into a higher position?
All this will help you answer potential objections later. For instance, knowing the company’s allotted budget or having evidence of a previously approved request is a good rebuttal for an outright “we have no budget” denial.
2. Build Your Case
Now that you know what you’re working with, it’s time to gather evidence for your pitch.
Step 1: Information About the Training
Find the cost, curriculum, duration, deadline for registration, and minimum attendees, if any. For off-site events, estimate lodging and transportation expenses. You can have these reimbursed or offer to cover the expenses as part of your pitch.
Note the training date and duration, including night and weekend options. Half-day away from the office might seem short to you but not to your manager.
Step 2: Compare Training Costs With Other Alternatives
Mike Julian, a Senior Technical Consultant, says “I’ve found that for particularly cost-conscious managers, explaining what alternatives you considered and why they’re far less effective is a great component to a pitch.”
Sandwich your preferred training option between a less expensive and more expensive choice. Given a $150 self-study Photoshop course, $500 in-person training, and a $1500 week-long event on the same subject, it will be easier to convince your boss to go for the middle option. In the same respect, an expensive C++ certification looks like a better investment compared to a similar non-certificate program.
You can also compare options based on duration, i.e. one takes two days while another takes a whole week.
Step 3: List Possible ROI for the Company
Move the spotlight as far away from you as possible.
Negative implications of approving your request worry your boss. What if you resign after completing it? What if higher-ups don’t approve of your manager’s choice for agreeing to this expense? That’s why everyone I talked to for this article emphasized citing ROI. Possible ROIs you can refer to are:
- Finishing your tasks faster.
- Pass on new skills to your team.
- Accept more responsibility.
- New skills unrelated to your job description opens new possibilities like adding to the company’s current roster of products and services.
- Additional training keeps you up to date with industry trends, such as security threats and new software.
- Build brand recognition and learn from other key players in the industry.
- Drum up leads and referrals from the people you meet.
Step 4: Tax Credits and Deductions
Some countries allow businesses to redeem tax deductions or credits for investing in their employee’s training. But not all education and training programs are eligible, so check with the accounting department or a tax consultant first.
Step 5: Level Up Your Game
“Training and professional development opportunities are often seen as a reward for top performers. It’s the company’s way of investing in people already proven to deliver an ROI,” notes Mark Tosczak, a Content Strategist. Gather commendations from past projects that benefited from your leadership and skills.
Emphasize how investing in you proves you’re a valuable asset to the company. Employee retention is a two-way street and your boss already knows that. A gentle reminder won’t hurt though. But if you’re not meeting the performance metrics, or are often late, then your boss won’t approve of anything that may delay you even more.
3. Send Your Email Pitch
Don’t expect your boss to approve the request if you bring it up in person. No need to ambush them. Instead, email your request first and then negotiate it in person afterward. This way you have two chances to negotiate and more time to convince your boss.
Harri Tiburcio, a Social Media Officer at Manulife, wrote a pitch requesting Search Engine Optimization (SEO) training for him and his team. Because he’s not allowed to divulge the actual email, he provided a rough template based on his request:
My team needs further training in Search Engine Optimization for the new business we’re building. Right now, we only know basic SEO.I already found a company offering a comprehensive training program on the subject. Details below:
Company Name: ________________
Credentials: list of affiliations and a testimonial.
Curriculum: A copy of the program’s outline obtained from their website.
Cost: Fee per attendee.
Training schedule and duration: Half-day training from 9 AM to 3 PM, any weekend of July.
Proposed number of attendees is X. We can send less people but the least we can send is Y.
I also looked at the current SEO and ranking of our website. It needs improvement but what we know isn’t enough for that. We can apply what we will learn to improve the site. This training can also help us drive leads to the website and get new business opportunities for the team.
Please let me know what you think.”
He highlighted the need for training in the first paragraph and wrote a powerful close with more benefits. Listing the ideal and least number of attendees suggests his boss has two options on total cost and productive hours lost. The phrase, “Please let me know what you think.” indicates that he expects a discussion if the request is declined without sounding pushy.
Prepare Your Elevator Speech
Here’s a collection of tips and negotiation scripts I gathered from professionals working in various fields.
Job Related and Company Level ROI
Julian, the Senior Technical Consultant mentioned earlier shared two strategies—one for events where he’s a speaker and another where he’s a participant:
“I will be speaking at (event name) event on (work-related topic). As speaker, the company can benefit from covering my expenses in different ways. The brand recognition from having someone on stage, plus the recruitment opportunity present in such events more than makes up for the cost of sending me there.”
Julian adds, “I often get ‘creative’ with the things I want them to pay for (such as a conference very loosely related to my field or a course irrelevant to my job description or the company’s business). Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t.” The script doesn’t always work, especially for unrelated training.
When it comes to training, his main driving argument is the script below, where X, Y, and Z refer to benefits his employers aren’t enjoying yet.
“The skills I want to learn are most effectively absorbed via training. This will directly benefit my work in X, Y and Z ways.
John Fieldsend, a Digital Marketing Manager and Web Developer, negotiated an Advanced PHP Security training spanning 4 days with his previous employer. His approach combined a persuasive elevator speech with a live demonstration:
“Over the last 10 years of working as a web developer, I’ve seen new technologies emerge. I’ve always tried to use the latest standards in web development by moving away from tables for layout and embracing new CSS ideas. The biggest change has been developing with PHP, which I’ve learned to code outside of work.
Our new company website is now easy to update and maintain through a custom built CMS. However, I’ve heard of a new security flaw from other PHP developers called SQL injection.
I’ve already found a dedicated PHP training and I’d like to sign-up to improve my coding skills and ensure our site and its code is secure.”
For his demonstration, he showed how a hacker using SQL injection can breach a demo site then alter the password and database information.
Upfront Value Demonstration
Dennis Mejia, a former IT Specialist (Health Informaticist), said “because my former employer was a startup, we had no access to additional training.” So he paid for his own online subscription to training, then convinced his boss to renew it later on. Here’s a script based on his short, informal pitch:
“Hey boss, you know the site I told you about (site name), where I learned all those cool things and allowed me to adapt to new technology quickly? My subscription is expiring.”
His boss was quick to take the hint because he already saw the value of the subscription before then.
Convincing your boss to pay for affordable online training is quite a bit easier than more expensive options, so a good place to start. We offer online video training for tech and creative topics here at Envato Tuts+, check out our course offering.
Ryan Cox, a Visual Designer, said his employer knows the value of training. But in the early days, “both time and money were limited, so the most we could afford was a paid subscription to a tutorial database,” he says.
Budget constraints hindered the creation of an employee development program. But he remained persistent and proactive in teaching others. His early attempt focused on restating the benefits his team experienced first hand:
“As you know, online video tutorials were useful to us. It helped everyone in the team get to grips with new software. But our experience with self-paced tutorials confirmed that it’s not a replacement for seeing and talking to professionals face to face.”
Cox says the “new enthusiasm pushed ideas of team-based learning”. Several discussions about offsite team-based learning followed, where he highlighted the benefits of this approach in different ways.
“With offsite training, a specialist with hours of classroom experience will teach us. The trainer can answer questions and facilitate guided hands-on learning in their office. We don’t get this sort of feedback teaching ourselves.”
“Our team can focus more on learning if we’re away from the office.”
“Group training can help us work better as a team.”
After that, a rough guideline on Continued Personal Development (CPD) was implemented. “This meant a number of working hours could be dedicated to learning new skills, be it online or through outings. Our boss will approve or decline suggested training opportunities based on time, cost and experience gained,” says Cox.
“As a result, we had toured the sound studio for BBC drama The Archers, had a paid travel visit to BVE, attended a Sound Seminar at the Electric Cinema, and more,” he continues.
Customize Materials From the Training Company
Jesse Anderson, a Big Data Curriculum Developer, says “conference and training sites have write ups to send or say to your boss.” If they have none, you can request one. Training institutions understand the need to rationalize the expenditure to your boss.
Here’s a screenshot of their downloadable email template:
“Convince your manager” + “(workshop or training topic)” or
“Justification letter” and “(
)” with quotation marks to find more downloadable templates related to your desired course. For example, a search on
"graphics design seminar" + "convince your manager" led me to NIWeek’s page that provides a justification letter to attendees.
Tosczak says offering a brown-bag lunch or presentation after getting back from the event often convinced his previous employers. Below is a customizable pitch based on his strategy:
“I saw a 3-day workshop on (topic) happening in (location). Some of the topics are (work related challenge) led by (notable name 1) and (tutorial on a new tool) by (notable name 2). Getting a scoop on upcoming trends and talking to competitors and vendors in (industry) are a big plus.
I’ll also host a brown-bag lunch when I get back so my co-workers can share the most valuable information I’ve learned from the event.”
Come up with answers to possible questions and objections your boss might throw at you, such as:
- “What will happen to your pending tasks while you’re away?”
- “How long will you be away from the office?”
- “Will you resign after completing this certification?”
- “Do you expect us to promote you, or raise your salary after this?”
- “Why does this cost so much?”
- “Why should the company approve this? What’s in it for us?”
Action Task: Pitch a Company Sponsored Training
Let’s pick the path of least resistance. Choose two to three reasonably priced half-day workshop directly related to your work or get started by pitching an online training subscription request.
Do the research—don’t skimp on the details—and write your email pitch. After sending it, prepare your elevator speech and rebuttals, just in case your boss wants to talk. Download our free PDF worksheet on how to negotiate paid training to help guide you.
If all this fails, politely ask why your request was declined. Perhaps they didn’t see the link between the training and your responsibilities. Note the reason, so you can examine it and present a better pitch that addresses their hesitations on your next meeting.