In early recovery, many of us start thinking about our career prospects. We may be looking for a new job, a promotion, or a career change and find that we need some new skills to get ahead. While drinking or using, we often didn’t pay attention to improving our job skills, employers didn’t want to invest in training us, or we may have been out of the workforce for some time. Whatever the reason, we’re looking to improve our skills — and fast.

According to NPR, nine percent of U.S. adults with a history of substance use disorder are unemployed. But work is an important part of recovery for many and can even help with your  mental health since, according to the journal Social Science & Medicine, those with full-time jobs reported having the lowest levels of depression and stress. But when it comes to finding meaningful work after SUD, many of us struggle because we may not have the money to invest in training and education, so we want something affordable. Here are seven ways of improving your job skills that are free or low cost.

1. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

MOOCs such as Coursera, EdX, and Futurelearn offer courses from universities around the world. The courses can be done in your own time and generally last several weeks. Subjects covered include business management, ESL teaching, epidemiology, cybersecurity, and many more. Most of the courses are free, although there are charges for some courses offering assessments and certificates.

If you’re thinking about doing college study, a MOOC could be a good place to start. It will help you learn more about a subject and get back into the habit of study before committing to a full degree programme. A MOOC is also a useful way of updating skills for your current work.

2. Volunteering

Volunteering with a charity or event is a way to update existing skills, learn new skills, or gain experience in a different field. Learning skills is often part of on-the-job training and many organizations may prefer people who already have some relevant skills. If you have been out of work or you want to move into a different area, look for a volunteer opportunity where you can apply existing skills and learn new ones. This will give you useful experience for moving into a new job.

Some volunteer opportunities offer formal training in exchange for a time commitment. I received training in teaching English as a foreign language in return for tutoring a refugee learner for 24 weeks. As well as learning teaching techniques, I learned a lot about intercultural communication through this experience.

Find volunteer opportunities by approaching organizations directly or look out for notices in your local community.

3. Industry and Professional Associations

There are many industry and professional organizations providing training and networking opportunities through meetings and courses (including online ones!). They charge a membership fee, which can be an excellent value if you make use of their services. Before you commit, see if an organization has a local branch or chapter meetings that you can attend to find out more, or if they are doing virtual meet-ups during COVID-19 times. Even if it doesn’t have local meetings, it may provide useful publications, webinars, or online learning as part of the membership fee or at a reduced members’ price.

Meetup is also useful for finding business and professional groups in many cities worldwide. These range from branches of national and international organizations to local groups for people working in a specific business or industry.

4. Sharing Skills with Friends

Your circle of friends can be a great resource for learning something new. If you need to learn how to use specific software or new techniques, start asking around to see if someone you know can teach you. If you want to move into another industry, speaking with someone who knows the jargon and the industry’s processes, and who will help you pitch your current skills and experience more effectively. They may even be able to help you edit your resume to appear relevant to this new industry.

Think about what skills you can offer to teach them in return. Remember, training others is also a useful skill to have.

5. YouTube

YouTube videos cover a wide range of skills and are useful when you can’t get hands on instruction.

If you have experience in using a product, but not the most up-to-date version, look for videos which show the key new features and how to use them. Many companies, such as Microsoft, Stihl, L’Oreal, and others put instructional videos on YouTube for their products.

Beyond official company YouTube channels, other people make instructional videos for YouTube. The quality of these varies widely, although the votes and comments are a helpful guide to watching quality videos. It’s also worth checking the presenter’s credentials through a Google search or looking on LinkedIn.

6. offers a wide range of instructional videos, ranging from basic to advanced. Many of these cover software and IT  but there are also videos on other business topics, including project management, accounting, customer service, and sales. As suggested for YouTube, you may want to look up the presenter’s credentials first, although does have a selection process for presenters to ensure a reasonable standard. has a monthly subscription. However, many local public libraries offer access as part of their service or it’s possible to get a one month free trial.

7. Community Resources

In your own community, public libraries, community centers, community groups, and local schools may offer useful courses. These can include basic education, software packages, small business, and more. 

These courses usually have a modest cost but sometimes they may even be free. Find these by looking on the websites or Facebook pages of local community organizations, or try Eventbrite which is also a useful source for local courses.

Improving your job skills can help you to get ahead professionally without being a huge burden on your wallet. The options above are a practical way of doing this without breaking the bank. After all, now that you’re sober, you deserve a better life — and improving your skills for a better job can be the path forward.