Recently, I came across an interesting article on that talks about the current (and potentially changing) value of education in the workplace.  The conclusions reached in this article not only resonate strongly with my own observations about how employers view formal education these days, but also hold profound implications for many people in the workforce — especially those folks interested in increasing their earnings potential or reinventing themselves in a new professional direction.

You’ll find a copy of the initial article here if you want to give it a quick read — as well as a copy of the more comprehensive “Employer Confidence Survey” the article draws from here, if you want to go even further in terms of understanding the modern workplace.

For what it’s worth, here are a few of the more telling statistics the survey reports:

• 74% of professionals believe employers value work experience more than education
• 72% believe specialized skills training is more valuable than a degree
• 63% of employees believe learning new skills is the #1 key to a bigger paycheck
• 53% believe graduate degrees are not necessary to get a higher-paying job
• 48% claim their degree, if they hold one, is in no way relevant their current job

The takeaway, at least to me, is that while formal college degrees continue to be important — especially in certain occupational paths — they are rapidly losing ground to more specialized, shorter-term learning options such as vocational training, on-the-job training, and professional certification courses.  In fact, it wasn’t long ago that I heard an educational professional refer to certifications as the “new master’s degree” based on the implication, I believe, that such programs tend to focus on teaching more practical, real-world skill sets compared to the higher-level theory/strategy/knowledge a graduate degree might concentrate on imparting.

Does this mean that obtaining your MBA is a bad idea?  Or that aspiring professionals should avoid graduate programs at all costs?  Not by any stretch, since again, there are many professional niches that still require advanced academic credentials for success.  I’d prefer my doctor to have a medical degree, thank you very much.  And let’s not forget that graduate programs offer networking advantages and other added-value benefits, as well, that a shorter course may lack.  But overall?  The role of education in career success is definitely shifting, and for somebody looking to boost their job prospects in a hurry, exploring short-term training options can definitely be a great option — especially if you do a bit of research to find out which programs map closely to the pressing needs of today’s employers.

So where do you start, if you’re looking to upgrade your skills toolbox?  Quite honestly, some general Google searches will usually get you pretty far, but just to whet your whistle, here’s a list of some other recent sources I’ve come across that can be useful in this regard — including several places one can get free training on Microsoft products, if that’s a particular area of need.

WA Small Business Development Center  (3 months of free training in Microsoft products)
GCF Learn Free (free basic instruction in computer and social media usage)
WA State Library Microsoft IT Academy (free training in most Microsoft software) (low-cost, member-based access to 3,000+ video training courses)
Coursera (access to free online courses from over 100 universities)
Connect2Classes (clearinghouse of various training schools and educational options)
Udemy (over 18,000 online courses, most of which are free are very inexpensive)
Khan Academy (free courses in math, arts, science, and computing)
Degreed (a fascinate site that seeks to “validate” all of the education you’ve acquired)

If any of you out there have some other suggestions on good free or low-cost training providers to pass along — or insights and opinions about this overall topic, in general — I’d welcome your comments below!