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Training is an essential investment for permanent and contracting IT professionals. But before you book on the next course or use up your training budget, try some of these free methods for increasing your knowledge capital.

Take your training allowance

Vast numbers of employees never take their precious training quota because work gets in the way or they run out of time. Plan for training courses as you would do for a holiday and make sure your desk is clear. Create a space in your schedule and delegate your responsibilities so when you’re on the course, that you’ll have a clear head for learning.

Attend training freebies

Many suppliers offer sweeteners as inducements to train in their new technology and achieve a critical mass of skills. The launch of SQL Server 2005 and Vista were accompanied by a road show of events and seminars up and down the country complete with free training vouchers. Microsoft and other major vendors regularly offer free seminars on topics such as security and for particular sectors such as education.

Re-label existing skills

The Gartner Group reckons the IT department will shrink by a third over the next four years and these jobs will shift to suppliers and contractors. Contractors and IT staffers who wish to exploit the trend will have to get good at relationship management and the softer skills. If you have any experience of leading a project, or working in teams, flag this up on your CV - it’s a good way of beefing up career collateral.

Look locally

Check out what your local council offers in the way of free training. Inner city areas have to improve local skills as part of their regeneration targets and residents of Luton, Manchester and Newham are in training heaven. Even if it’s not possible to gain access to a C# course using this funding route, there will be a host of programmes available in soft skills. Evidence of leadership, conflict resolution will all boost your career prospects. If you’re working for a blue chip, soft skill course are often offered ’free’ from a central budget.

Trade rate/pay for training

For seasoned programmers keen to re-skill it might be worth pitching at a very competitive market rate in return for some exposure to modern technologies. This tactic works particularly well in the public sector where funding is still an issue, despite the public perception of pots of money swilling around. “They might take a VB programmer with some C # experience, whereas a bank would want red hot skills. Public sector hirers are more open minded about potential”, says one insider sharp experience, whereas a bank would want red hot skills. Public sector hirers are more open minded about potential”, says one insider.

Sector skills

Don’t underestimate the value of sector knowledge either. Environments such as financial services seek employees who can talk investment instruments, trades and derivatives as well as the finer points of J2EE. Use every job as a learning experience sector-wise as well as technology-wise and market yourself in this way.

Justify the investment

Even if a course you’ve spotted is way over budget, you may be able to pull it off if you can present a strong business argument for it. “The best course I ever did was the London Business School’s High performance people skills,” says Ben Booth, global technology officer for market research firm Ipsos. “It cost over £7,000 but my employer was prepared to pay because it. It helped that I identified some weakness that the source would plug.”