We all know that learning, and adding to our work skills can play a crucial role in our advancement at work.  But for many of us, going back to school is not a realistic choice right now.  We have families, elderly parents and other obligations that require our time.  In addition, our bank accounts might not be up to the investment needed to return to school and we don’t want to add debt with more school loans.  So how do we get the growth we need without further education?  No one wants to hire the person who has stagnated since school.  The key is to boost our knowledge through smart and free or low-cost ways that are already there in our everyday life.  Here are some ways to do just that and help us advance in our careers.  

Connect with Your Manager

Meeting with our managers can open doors to new experiences, especially when we want to grow within our current company.  Telling our managers about a particular area of the business we are interested in learning more about or certain talents we hope to cultivate is a great way to show management that we are taking the initiative to learn more and expand our skills.  Asking to work on projects or tasks that are outside of our day-to-day responsibilities can lead to new knowledge, meeting co-workers in different areas, and give us a better understanding of the entire company.  If we are looking to improve our public speaking skills, management may be able to place us on a project that will allow us to cultivate that skill.


Networking can be the golden key to learning and expanding our knowledge.  Looking for seminars and workshops in our field hosted by industry-specific groups can give the opportunities to meet with others in our field and make connections.  Most cities have regular meetups for industry professionals.  Look for open classes, lectures, networking events and panels.  Not all of these events are free, but many are free or low cost, or might be covered through our company.  Eventbrite and LinkedIn are great sources to explore these events.  Joining industry societies and professional organizations is another great way to meet others in our fields or fields we are interested in.  Find someone to emulate as mentors and ask them about how they advanced in their careers.  Also, being a mentor to others is a way to learn.  Volunteering is another great way to expand our skill set.  For example, if we are looking to gain managerial experience, offering to oversee fundraisers for our towns or our kids’ PTA’s helps us attain those leadership skills.  Serving on the boards of nonprofits helps us gain knowledge as well as refine our strategy and communication skills.  These roles also look great on a resume.  Employers like to see the commitment to give back.

Read Books

Read, read and read some more!  Research books that contain skills and areas we wish to learn more about and then check with the local library to see if they have them to borrow for free.  If there is a specific book that is not available, decide if it is worth the investment.  Also, subscribe to some key industry blogs and newsletters to stay on top of the latest trends.  Try to limit the number of them to avoid too many emails that overwhelm. 

Online Courses

Even if we don’t have time or money for a full time program, online classes can fill the bill.  There are many that are free or charge a small fee.  Some charge a fee to submit assignments or to receive a certificate once the course has been completed.  Be sure to read the fine print.  There are over 4,000 online courses offering every possible topic.  Getting a certification or taking an online workshop can freshen up our skills or introduce us to new fields we might want to pursue.  To delve into courses that teach new skills, such as coding for example, look for courses offered from LinkedIn Learning, edX and Coursera.  There are many that are offered online at a low cost. Even though we might not have a ton of money or time to add to our skill sets, choosing a starting point such as something new we want to learn, or locating someone we want to meet, can get the ball rolling.  Remember, the more we learn, the more we can earn!