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If you want to change your work life, you’ll likely need a new degree or certificate. There are many challenges to getting “reskilled.” These obstacles can be practical — like a lack of time or money — or emotionally rooted, as it’s a daunting prospect for any adult.
Whether you want to go back to school or are attending for the first time, knowing where to start is the first step.
Here’s a roundup of resources, including worker retraining programs, to help you kickstart the process of gaining new skills and credentials. Many of these programs and services are free, and many others are eligible for federal financial aid. Each are noted where applicable.
Federal and state support
Start with your state’s workforce development investment board, which can direct you to training opportunities, suggests Pamela Egan, director of the Labor Management-Partnerships Program for the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center. » MORE: So you want a new job? Here’s how to retrain
Egan says the system isn’t flawless, but it’s accessible and free through public funding via the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
Additional government resources for job retraining
State Workforce Agencies provide information on career training and jobs available in your state.
Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs:
Job Corps: A free residential education and job training program for young adults ages 16-24.
National Farmworker Jobs Program: Job training and employment assistance to migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents.
CareerOneStop job centers: Career training services under the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration through 2,400 American Job Centers.
YouthBuild: Nearly 300 nonprofit programs throughout the United States that offer training and opportunities for unemployed youth who have often not finished high school and may have struggled with unemployment, poverty and crime.
Federal resources to explore career options
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, which includes descriptions of work, training and education, earnings and future job prospects for hundreds of different occupations.
Employer training programs
Employers in your area may offer:
Workforce training partnerships that will provide skilling to existing or potential employees.
Traditional four-year colleges offer a variety of degree options and typically result in higher earnings than other training programs, depending on your area of study.
Sometimes, students who attended a four-year school will need to attend graduate school to enter their intended field. Others may pursue a master’s degree for a different career path than their undergraduate education.
Use the College Scorecard — a database from the U.S. Department of Education — to compare colleges and their programs. It displays useful data for evaluating schools and majors, including graduation rates, costs, typical debt and student outcomes.
The price of these programs varies, but they’re eligible for federal student aid.
Community college programs
Public two-year colleges offer career training certificates and associate degrees. There are also 23 states with community colleges that offer bachelor’s degree programs.
Students typically pursue one of two paths:
Career training through technical programs.
Two-year programs with the intent to transfer to a four-year college.
Community college programs are usually inexpensive and students are eligible for federal student aid.
Free college programs
There’s no national free college program, but your state may offer one. They are usually “last-dollar” scholarship programs, which means the funds will cover remaining tuition after any federal and state grant money.
The programs may cover four-year schools, community college or a degree for certain high-demand fields of study.
Trade schools and short-term certificate programs
Trade schools offer hands-on training for students to enter a specific field. These are typically certificate programs that last one to two years or less. You can explore jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree using goodjobsdata.org, a project of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.
Schools may lead you directly to a job, but choose carefully as not all programs are legit, says the Federal Trade Commission. Compare programs using TrainingProviderResults.gov and College Scorecard.
The cost of trade school can vary and you could get similar training to enter a particular field through community college instead. Many schools may be eligible for federal student aid, but not all short-term and noncredit programs will.
Apprenticeships are paid, full-time positions offering hands-on learning through a combination of on-the-job experience and classroom instruction. Training and wages are typically provided by an individual employer.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are professions that typically have apprenticeship programs in the United States:
Elevator installers and repairers.
Insulation workers, mechanical.
Musical instrument repairers and tuners.
Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters.
Sheet metal workers.
You can search for apprenticeship opportunities through the U.S. Department of Labor.