HSA for Training

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Most of us don't get any sort of training budget from our employer. In fact, some of our employers expect us to learn more and get certified on our own time and our own dime. Relatively few of us get to attend a conference that our employer pays for, which is a shame. I think conferences can be exciting and encouraging in helping you drive your career and knowledge forward.

This is one reason that Andy Warren and I started SQL Saturday. We wanted to bring the conference experience to many people whose employers might not pay for a trip. That has grown to over 100 events a year, all around the world, primarily thanks to tons of local efforts and the support of PASS.

For most of us, however, training involves some cost, often financial. Some people pay for a class or conference themselves, many pay for books, and some get their employer to provide funds. Asking an employer, however, is a chore, and this can be intimidating for many people.

Managers often are whimsical about approving training budgets, even for things like books. Either the employee really has to justify the cost (conference) or they may feel silly about asking for a small amount (a book). Managers also need to track and somehow justify their spending on training and balance this among employees. This creates friction and hassles for everyone.

Perhaps there's a better way. For those in the US, you might be familiar with the Health Savings Accounts (HSA) for medical expenses. In these, an employee can put away their own money for use on whatever medical costs they may incur. There are tax advantages here, but perhaps that would be something that would work for training.

Imagine an HSA for training, where the employer would designate an amount that each employee could use for training. This would be per year, with carry over amounts. The total budget per year might also be based on job and seniority. There also wouldn't be a need to seek approval, but rather, notify someone that you were using funds for some educational experience.

In any case, the employee would have a fund that they could use at their own discretion, and be both responsible and accountable for training. Maybe there are caps on accrual, or a limited list of places to spend the money, but this would remove some of the friction of keeping employees trained. We treat them like adults and expect them to make good decisions for their career. If there are issues, we handle them on a case by case basis.

I'm wondering if any of you have a training budget that is better structured. Perhaps some of you always get your requests approved, and perhaps some of you never ask. Let us know today what you think of this idea, and would this encourage more learning at your organization?

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