When a company reorganization left Melanie Masson out of work in 2017, she seized the moment.
The unexpected job loss meant Masson was able to make use of her time on unemployment to pursue the education she’d long wanted — a Certificate in Museum Studies, offered by UW Professional & Continuing Education.
“I found it to be a real asset to my career,” said Masson, who’s worked in membership and development for Seattle-area nonprofit organizations. “When you show that you are going back to school, employers see that you’re motivated.”
Could Education Help You Get Back to Work?
The pandemic has forced job losses and hard choices for thousands of workers across Washington and the nation. If you’re among them, you might be able to use unemployment and training benefits to upgrade your skills. Here’s how:
STEP 1: Contact WorkSource Washington
Once you’ve applied for state unemployment benefits, get started by checking out the WorkSource Washington website to access a set of state resources to help you in your job search.
Call your local WorkSource office and talk to an employment counselor. The counselor will review your job history and career goals to determine your eligibility for training benefits or even tuition assistance. If you qualify, they can help mix and match benefit programs to help you boost your skills or even start a new career.
“We can work with people and try to figure out a way,” said Marvin Stern, a Seattle-based career employment and training counselor. “Having a game plan early on to get back to work makes a lot of sense.”
STEP 2: Explore the Benefits Available to You
If you qualify, the next step is figuring out the specific education or training you need to get back in the game and enhance your long-term career prospects.
“If upgrading your marketability is what you're looking for, going to school shouldn’t be a plan B,” Stern said. “It should be a plan A.”
If your last job was in an occupation that’s in decline, you may qualify for state-funded training benefits toward a job that’s in high demand.
Plus, you may qualify for federal funds to help you get the skills you need for a return to work. If you’ve been laid off, or lost a job through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for a voucher toward tuition and books under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Talk to a WIOA case manager to find out if you qualify.
Through a combination of programs, Stern said, students could be eligible for as many as 26 additional weeks of income replacement while in training, and up to $2,000 to cover some tuition and books. Plus, students may not have to look for work while in school.
However, unemployment benefits may not cover all costs of a training program. Some students may need to use savings or consider scholarships or low-interest loans, Stern said.
STEP 3: Find an Approved Program
Training benefits only apply if you enroll in a state-approved program. Eligible Training Providers (ETPs) — including community colleges, technical colleges, private providers and University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education — must meet certain requirements, including a track record of student success in finding employment.
More than 80 certificate and degree programs through UW Professional & Continuing Education are approved for students with WIOA vouchers and/or training benefits. To find the program that’s right for you, check out the Eligible Training Provider list on the Washington Career Bridge website, which matches job titles to education programs.
What Success Looks Like
Stern has advised many people using unemployment benefits toward successful graduation from UW Professional & Continuing Education programs, including certificates in Big Data Technologies, C# Programming, Machine Learning, Project Management and Writing.
“They want to provide added value for themselves, and also for their future employer,” he said. “They want to remain competitive, or become competitive in the field that they have experience in. It’s a really great opportunity and value.”
Melanie Masson is among those successful graduates. She said she was eligible for federal benefits that covered more than half the costs of her Certificate in Museum Studies. While enrolled, Masson completed two internships, and began working full time at a Seattle museum.
“I appreciated the real-world experience the instructors brought to the classroom,” Masson said. “It made me confident that the material we were learning was relevant in the field, not just in an academic setting.”
Now a development director for a maritime museum in Seattle, Masson encourages anyone with an unexpected break in employment to make the most of their time by learning new skills.
“If the pandemic has opened up time in your schedule, be it from a job loss or reduced social activity, fill it with something worthwhile,” Masson said. “You might regret wasting untold hours watching Netflix. You’ll never regret spending those hours expanding your education.”