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Beware of PMO Pay-to-Work Training & Experience Schemes

The world of projects is an attractive arena in which to work. On professional networking sites we frequently see people asking how they can “break in” to projects, often with little or no experience or relevant skills. This creates an environment in which it is possible to “sell” to eager jobseekers with the promise of future reward.
One worrying development that PMO Flashmob has seen recently is the emergence of what we think of as “pay-to-work” schemes.
It works like this:

  • A training company offers an “introductory” level training course (as well as PMO, there are BA and PM courses)
  • The course seems to cover a good range of topics at a very low price (typically about 1/3 of the price of a similar level course from a well-known, established training company)
  • The scheme offers opportunities to acquire experience working on “real” projects, and implies that at the end of the course and practical experience you will be able to get a job earning >£450/day as a contractor
  • The scheme offers mentorship, and assistance with CV writing and job hunting

What they don’t tell you is that:

  • The course only covers a portion of what you need to know to do the job effectively; they often focus on “hard” (technical) knowledge and completely bypass “soft skills” (such as persuading & influencing, negotiation, communication).
  • The practical experience is acquired by working for a company that is associated with the training company (this may have a different name from the training company but may well be owned by the same people as the training company), typically to develop mobile phone apps or other ‘digital’ projects.
  • Although the ~3 months practical experience is real project work, candidates are not paid for it.
  • Nor is the practical experience of developing an app actually project management experience.
  • This means that candidates are paying for the opportunity to take a course and then work developing apps that the practical experience company profits from, i.e. the trainees are “buying” experience to put on their CV, which you could think of as paying to work.
  • The free mentorship and CV writing advice is typically provided by recent course alumni, who may not be very much further down the career pipeline than you are (this implies that you will have an obligation to provide mentorship and support to future trainees)

If you are looking to “break in” to the projects world and are tempted to “buy in” to one of these schemes, please bear the following points in mind:

  • You are unlikely to get a £450/day contract on the strength of an introductory training course and 3 months experience. Clients seeking contractors generally look for considerably more experience than that.
  • Do you think the main aim of the scheme is:
    1. To provide you with the skills you need to get a job, or
    2. To provide a steady stream of free project resources for the practical experience company, with each prepared to work for three months for nothing?
  • Would you get better quality training by spending a bit more money with an established, reputable training company? (you could look for independent reviews of the training company on – I couldn’t find these schemes listed there)
  • If your (un?)employment position is challenging enough that you really are prepared to work 3 months for nothing in order to gain experience to put on your CV, would it be better for all concerned for you to:
    1. Provide your free services to a charity or local voluntary organisation rather than a business making profit from your efforts?
    2. Secure a position one level below your target position, acquire (paid) experience there and then move up to your target position?

At the end of the day it’s your career and this may be your best option, but if you make the choice to enrol on one of these schemes, you should do it with your eyes wide open.

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