Owning a home and investing in stocks and bonds are common strategies people use to boost their financial security, but some overlook what could be the working adult’s most valuable asset: their income earning potential.
An investment in one’s career could easily generate more than an investment in the stock market, and it is one over which employees have much more control.
Professionals pursue continuing education to advance their careers, change industries or stay ahead of rapidly evolving technology. Social media, for example, has transformed many professions and requires an entirely new set of skills than those taught just five years ago.
Steve Kelly, director of the Kellstadt Marketing Center (KMC) in DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business, has seen this revolution firsthand. “Social media, digital display advertising, search engine marketing and competing on analytics were not in the vocabulary for most of our students when they received their undergraduate degrees,” he says. “Today’s marketing is being driven by predictive and web analytics, social media listening and marketing, customer relationship management, database development, individual targeting and return on investment accountability. Only experts who are practicing this today can keep up with the changing marketing landscape.”
Tim Weaver (LAS ’97), account manager at ESPN Local in Chicago, returned to DePaul in 2013 to pursue the KMC Integrated Marketing Communications Certificate. “I needed something to prove that I had a knowledge base for internal and external career opportunities,” he explains. “I didn’t have the time to do a full-blown MBA program, but did want it to be at an accredited university. I found the IMC program was the perfect balance of all the elements I was looking for.”
Kelly notes that the advantages of pursuing professional development over a full degree program include students’ ability to target specific skills and just-in-time learning in the format that best suits them. KMC courses range from a single class on one day to a course spread over 10 evening sessions to a multiple-course certificate program. To accommodate professional travel schedules, an increasing number of these courses are available online.
Weaver’s strategy worked.
“My clients and co-workers look at me in a different light, as a real expert in the digital marketing field who they can come to for help,” he says. “My managers come to me to discuss best practices when developing new sponsorship and program elements.”
A study DePaul commissioned in 2009 estimated more than 1.4 million people in northern Illinois, northwestern Indiana and southeastern Wisconsin pursued career-related, noncredit professional education. In a typical year, upward of 3,000 students enroll in programs at KMC and DePaul’s Continuing and Professional Education (CPE).
Harry Bryant, CPE director, says those who pass through his doors are mostly people in midcareer or middle-management jobs. A third to a half have taken classes or earned a degree from DePaul. Alumni receive a 15 percent discount on all KMC programs and some CPE courses.
“The demographics are shifting toward professional education,” Bryant notes. The number of high school graduates in America peaked between 2007 and 2011. These students have already completed or soon will complete college. “What are they going to need to take the next step forward in their careers?” he asks. “They will seek specific skills to advance, differentiate themselves or break into a new industry.”
CPE students take a range of programs that span from three-hour seminars to 180-hour certificate programs addressing the latest trends and techniques in financial planning, human resources and management, among other topics. Because Chicago has become an operational and logistical hub, Bryant says certifications in supply chain management, project management and Six Sigma process improvement are very popular.
As Weaver’s experience illustrates, professionals who take ownership of their careers by updating their skills can become management’s go-to staff members, a role that can enhance future earnings.