The greater the jump in anticipated income, the greater the incentive to attend a full-time programme THE MORE YOU learn, the more you earn, says Trevor Sunderland, manager of permanent recruitment services at Manpower Services (Hong Kong). 'A second degree, part time or otherwise, gives employees cross-training and increased flexibility in the job market,' he said. But prospective students should make sure they are undertaking continuing education for more than a piece of paper to hang on the wall. 'Experience and knowledge gained, rather than a marginal increase in income, is the best reason to pursue a second degree,' Mr Sunderland said. 'The best employees tend to be well-rounded, fully developed people with solid experience and a breadth of skills. Having a second degree on one's resume will imply this.' The director of Manpower Services, Deborah Morgan, agreed that in today's ever-changing business world it was beneficial to one's career to maintain a competitive edge through continued learning. 'With proper time management, a person who invests in continued study will see the return benefits over the course of their career,' she said. 'Study or enhancing skills is also much easier and convenient now, other than the traditional university methods, there is correspondence study or the most popular way - study online.' There are several reasons for making a return to the classroom. The first is to enhance your competitiveness. 'Most people enter into part-time degree study with a view to gaining new employment or promotion in existing employment,' Mr Sunderland said. Another good reason is personal development. 'Many people feel they have missed out on opportunities to study areas which interested them at school but they had to give up when they started working,' Mr Sunderland said. 'A part-time degree provides the opportunity to take up renewed or new interests without giving up a day job.' Empty nesters are also prime candidates. 'A number of individuals, particularly women, realise it might be the time to study for a degree when their children have left home,' Mr Sunderland said. 'One of the big advantages of part-time study is it can fit around existing home and work commitments.' Depending on the programme they choose, people can study in the evenings, on weekends, part time during the day, or a combination of these options. 'Part-time education proves useful for those who cannot go directly to a school for their education, but who wish to expand their knowledge in specific areas of business such as marketing, finance or accounting,' Mr Sunderland said. Many people struggle with the decision to study full time. 'Dealing with the financial part of the equation can be a challenge, and many people decide against full-time study because they need to keep earning their salary. On the other hand, borrowing money to attend full time sometimes makes financial sense,' Mr Sunderland said. 'It all depends on whether you are expecting to earn more money once finished. The greater the jump in anticipated income, the greater the incentive to attend full time.' There are several practical considerations when selecting a programme including cost, the time it will take to complete a course, and whether you should take time off. The first consideration, however, is your career plan. 'This plan should include the sector in which you wish to move to or strengthen yourself within, possibly the type and size of business you wish to enter, and the level you wish to reach,' he said. 'Having a clear career plan for the next five to eight years will greatly help in defining needs and significantly reducing the choices of programmes that may be most suitable.' Balancing conflicting obligations can be difficult if you study part time while working. Mr Sunderland said: 'The question people have to ask is: am I willing and able to spend much of my free time studying rather than with my family? To cut down on socialising with friends? To survive on six hours of sleep a night? And to do this, possibly, for several years?' Family support - especially from your partner - is crucial. 'This is especially important for women, [because they] often bear a disproportionate responsibility for childcare and housework. A non-supportive spouse, obviously, makes [study] just about impossible,' Mr Sunderland said. Company support is also key. 'Wise management should always support employees who wish to enhance their skills and knowledge,' Ms Morgan said. 'It is vital for a company also to know how to utilise new skills or knowledge once gained and have this mapped through performance reviews. 'If a company is not quick to take advantage of new skills and knowledge, it runs the risk of losing employees to companies that do.'