9 Tips on Asking for Training Dollars (When Budgets Are Tight)

Regardless of whether an agency is flush with cash or not, there will always be staff who hope to get a little piece of what training money does exist so that they can continue learning, growing, and networking in support of their government careers. While asking for training dollars is difficult, it becomes even harder when you know your agency is trying to cut on expenses.

Still, don’t be afraid to ask for training dollars, even when you know the funds aren’t there. Good managers see the benefit in networking and ongoing education for their employees and will be willing to make it work if they can. Below, we share nine tips on how to ask for training dollars when money is tight.

  1. Ask around: If you want to attend a training or event that is offered regularly, find someone within your agency who has attended in the past to ask what they learned, key takeaways, contacts, or how they’ve applied the knowledge gained in the office. Use this as your starting point for your research on the benefits of the event (and to help you determine whether the event is truly right for your needs).
  2. Start with an email, then meet in person: Send your manager an email listing the basic facts about the event or training opportunity that interests you (event name, date, location, fees, and a few sentences about anticipated benefit for your agency/team). Then note the deadline for registration and ask your manager for time to speak in person about the opportunity well ahead of that timeframe (to that end, be sure to tell your manager if there is a discount for early registration).
  3. Be ready to speak to the benefits for your team or agency: Regardless of whether there are training funds or not, your manager will still want justification as to why you want to attend the training. And while you might benefit and be able to advance your career based on what you learn or who you meet, when you’re asking for training dollars, stay focused on what your team or agency will gain. Talk about speakers you can learn from, sessions you intend to participate in, and contacts you think you will make. Think about best practices you’ll likely gain that you can apply on the job. Or, if you have a project coming up or one currently in progress, speak to how specific sessions or courses will help that project succeed. Offer to take specific questions from your team to the event that you can ask of speakers or anyone you meet (how the presenter overcame a challenge your team is facing, why they chose one option to complete a project instead of another, etc.).
  4. Do your homework on your options: Your manager will likely ask you whether a lower-cost alternative is available. In that instance, it is important that you are prepared with options. Consider a cost-effective sandwich, where your preferred choice is mid-priced, another option is cheaper, and the third is more expensive. Be ready to state your case as to why your preferred choice provides opportunities the others don’t.
  5. Offer a learning event: In addition to explaining how the event will benefit your own work within the agency, offer to bring your team together for a brown bag lunch session after you return to share some of the best practices you’ve gained or some new avenues for overcoming challenges you might be facing on current projects. Your manager may be more willing to help find the training dollars if there is benefit for the whole team.
  6. Know what your agency or team needs now: Especially in times of cutbacks or budget uncertainty, there are needs within your team or agency that won’t necessarily be filled by hiring someone with a specialized skill set. When you’re reaching the event and coming up with the benefits you want to share with your manager, link these to current agency or team needs and explain how you might be able to fill that need with the knowledge you gain. Did your team’s budgeting expert just retire? Explain the learning objectives of a budgeting course and how you can help to fill the gap until a new employee is hired (or how you might be able to move into that position with the proper training).
  7. Remove timing concerns: If you’re taking a training or going to a conference during the work week, you’re not at your desk doing your job. When speaking with your manager, explain how you plan to ensure your work is completed while you attend the event.
  8. Remain flexible and grateful: If your manager offers to cover your attendance at another, lower priced event (or pay for the same event in the next budget year), listen closely to the offer and be grateful that your manager is invested in your continued learning and is attempting to reach a compromise. Indicate that you would like some time to consider whether that option truly fits the agency’s needs and your own training goals, and set a follow-up time to discuss the offer. Don’t outright reject the offer, because you will likely lose your chance at whatever training dollars remain.
  9. Persist: If your meeting with your manager doesn’t end with a definite answer, ask when you should follow up, reminding your manager of the deadline to register. If your manager gives a flat out no, ask whether the reason is purely financial or if something else is stopping you from getting the go ahead. If, for example, your manager doesn’t recognize the benefit, consider completing more research and strengthening your proposal. And, offer to explore other training options (webinars or free events) that might fit your need until there is more money in the budget (again, this shows your commitment to training and might bode well in the future when the money is there).

Overall, the most important thing you can do when requesting training dollars is to come prepared. When budgets are tight, the evidence you can provide regarding return on investment can be the difference between a yes and a no.