How to upgrade your career

Back in 2017, Soma Jankovics-Erős knew he had what it would take to switch careers from a customer success specialist to a software developer. He had already picked up basic coding skills in his spare time using the online learning platform Lynda (now called LinkedIn Learning), and translated those skills into an offer to study at Lighthouse Labs, a Toronto-based coding bootcamp where he would learn to build websites and mobile apps. 

The real challenge, he thought, would be paying the nearly $10,000 tuition—that is, until, he discovered the Canada Job Grant, a government initiative that would cover up to two-thirds of the cost of his training at Lighthouse Labs. That was a real selling point for PowerHub, the software startup where Jankovics-Erős worked—and it didn’t hurt that he promised to return as a computer programmer after graduation. “Luckily, I didn’t have to do much to convince them to pay for my training,” says said Jankovics-Erős. “Finding a developer is tough. There’s already a shortage in the market. Training someone internally who already understood the whole system saved the company time and money.”

In addition to having his tuition covered, Jankovics-Erős landed a $10,000 raise in the roughly three months it took him to complete a coding bootcamp

Across Canada, companies like PowerHub are drafting game plans for a digital future, but many are struggling to find workers with the skills needed to execute them. It’s unlikely your own education prepared you for robots, artificial intelligence, or high-speed 5G networks, which is why lifelong learning, and financial support for those willing to invest in critical new skills, is as vital to individual career success as it is to Canada’s ability to compete in the world.  

As Jankovics-Erős discovered, there are ways to pay for those skills that are interest-free and require little or no money upfront. Here are three options you might want to check out:

Canada Job Grant

The Canada Job Grant is a joint federal-provincial initiative that helps employers cover training costs for new or existing employees. 

The type of training eligible for funding is flexible, ranging from short-term IT courses to full-time professional education like an MBA. The onus, regardless of where you choose to study, is on your employer to apply for funding on your behalf through your provincial government. 

The Canada Job Grant covers two-thirds of training costs up to $10,000 per eligible employee; employers cover the remaining third. Organizations can also receive 100% funding of up to $15,000 to hire and train new workers. Included in the Canada Job Grant is $500 per student for textbooks, software and other training materials, as well as $500 for travel expenses if classes are more than 24 kilometres away. 

If you’re worried about burdening your employer with administration costs, don’t be. “Our company’s bookkeeper submitted our application and we were accepted within two weeks,” says Jankovics-Erős of his experience at PowerHub. 

Of course, learners need to consider how to make up for lost wages while they study. The critical question, however, is how much the right training opportunity will improve your lifetime earning potential. In one study, for example, computer programmers with bachelor’s degrees commanded average salaries of $82,825 across Canada. 

To find out more about funding in your province, eligibility rules, or how organizations can pool resources to support shared training goals through the grant’s Consortium Stream, visit this Government of Canada web page.

Second Career

If you live in Ontario and you’ve been laid off or are working temporary jobs just to pay the bills, Second Career can offer you up to $28,000 to learn in-demand skills. The money can be used to pay for tuition, as well as books, manuals, workshops, transportation, living expenses and child care. 

Unlike with the Canada Job Grant, however, you may have to pay some of your own tuition and training fees; exactly how much will depend on your gross (before tax) household income, monthly expenses and other factors. Second Career also allows Ontarians on Employment Insurance to receive funding through the program.

Applicants are expected to work with a local employment services agency to determine if the program is right for them. To apply to Second Career, you can schedule an appointment with a counsellor or find a service agency in your community. 

Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP)

The Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) isn’t a grant, but it deserves a place on anyone’s list of government efforts to support lifelong learning. 

The LLP lets you withdraw, tax-free, $10,000 per year up to a total of $20,000 from your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) to invest in full-time education. (Remember, outside of specific programs like the LLP, money withdrawn from your RRSP is treated as ordinary income and taxed at your marginal tax rate.) Money you withdraw in this way can be used for you, or your spouse or common-law partner, provided the intended student study on a full-time basis (defined as 10 or more hours per week); people with disabilities may be able to study part-time and still qualify. You can participate in the plan as many times as you like throughout your lifetime. 

As with the Home Buyer’s Plan (HBP), you’ll eventually need to replace what you’ve removed from your RRSP. The LLP gives you up to the fifth year after your first withdrawal to begin putting money back into retirement savings, and you need to replace at least one-tenth of the amount withdrawn each year over the 10 years. 

Personal finance expert Preet Banerjee argues almost no one uses the LLP. He doubts many full-time students earn enough income to worry about paying tax on RRSP withdrawals. But high-income earners can still use the LLP to subsidize lower-earning spouses’ and common-law partners’ education. And if you’ve lost a high-paying job and find yourself collecting a sizeable severance, the LLP could be just what you need to defray the cost of a diploma or professional degree that helps you get back on track.  

The LLP clearly isn’t for everyone; for many working professionals, forgoing income to study full-time just isn’t feasible. So be sure the plan makes sense given your family’s circumstances before you decide to borrow from yourself. 

Should you go back to school?

The true benefits of education are incalculable, but the lifetime earning potential that comes with acquiring new skills should still factor into your decision to go back to school. Prospective students considering full-time courses in data science, web development, and leadership and management, for example, can expect average starting salaries of $50,000 to $82,000 after graduation. Meanwhile, average base salaries in these professions range from $78,000 to $105,000 per year. 

“I’m obviously on a different trajectory now,” says Jankovics-Erős about his switch to software development. “I would have spent most of my savings—paid out of pocket—to learn software development on my own. But I’m glad I didn’t.” 


Robert Furtado is the CEO of CourseCompare, Canada’s marketplace for education. Robert is a former marketing agency executive and instructor at the Humber School of Media Studies. He created CourseCompare to make it easier for people to identify and pursue in-demand digital skills across Canada and beyond.



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