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Seek a Professional Certificate to Get a Career Boost

For some students, a certificate or just a few courses are enough to get a promotion – and a raise.

Students can change their career trajectory with as little as one course, experts say.
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Tanya Delpriore, a program analyst for the U.S. Navy, wanted a chance for career advancement. She already had a bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University and a master's from Webster University, but she needed an executive leadership program to advance.

Delpriore applied to and was selected for a nine-month executive leadership program, a professional certificate that got her a 25 percent raise. The program, one of many online and in-person programs offered by Graduate School USA, is geared to adult professionals looking to advance in their careers.

[Find the right career for you.]

Delpriore not only now supervises her former department, an expeditionary command, but also has new responsibilities such as developing manpower and training requirements for service members who work at surface, submarine, air and cyber commands.

Nine-month or shorter paths to pay raises and career advancement aren't rare. People can change their trajectory with as little as one course, says Otis White, faculty chairman of the business and management and public administration department at Rio Salado College. The professional certificates consist of community college courses packaged for the needs of career professionals.

One reason professional development courses are so important in both the federal government and general workforce is there is a need for managers as a generation of baby boomers retire, White says. Because of hiring freezes and budget cuts during the recession, there's an absence of managers.

Most new hires were younger, entry-level employees. Retirees' management positions were often left vacant, he says.

There are lots of rules and regulations for government workers, says Graduate School USA spokeswoman Grace Schiraldi. "Training is absolutely necessary or things will grind to a halt."

The school was originally started to further train U.S. Department of Agriculture employees who already had graduate degrees. Now, it offers professional development training, regardless of whether someone has any previous degrees.

Both Graduate School USA and Rio Salado offer their instructors and facilities for workplace training to corporations and governments ranging from local to federal, while still offering programs to individuals. Each workplace program is designed for the needs of the individual organization.

[Find out how to get your employer to pay for school.]

In the executive leadership program Delpriore attended, she took a personality profile test and was assigned a team that consisted of individuals from a variety of federal organizations, from the Federal Aviation Administration to the Department of Homeland Security. The program is designed to provide experiential learning. The goal was to learn from a variety of management styles and build networks.

One of the curriculum requirements for the executive leadership program was a 60-day developmental tour, a temporary position in a department of Delpriore's choice. Delpriore's developmental tour became her new full-time position with U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

Beyond replacing retiring boomers in the workforce, there are skills that weren't needed to 10 to 15 years ago in the workforce that are now needed: the ability to work in teams and knowledge of accounting processes across all departments of a corporation, White says.

White says one student, an engineer with a master's degree in engineering, wasn't getting promoted because he didn't know how to work in teams. When he graduated from college over a decade ago, communication skills weren't important for highly technical positions.

Now, business communication is vital for advancement. For around $1,000, that student was able to take the four to five courses needed to complete a certificate in team building and team management.

Other times, only one or two courses are needed for career advancement. It was long thought one accounting course and one finance course in a business degree was enough for individuals who weren't employed in those two departments, White says. However, that changed after public financial debacles in companies such as Enron, he says.