As I begin the year with my business plan and budget in place I have been thinking a lot about education.

I used to work in a real estate office where there was this agent — I’ll just call him "Sam." Sam was the master of finding free continuing education courses (CEUs). As real estate licensees in Minnesota we are required to take 15 CEUs every year.

That isn’t much — 15 hours spread out over a year. They can be taken online, through our company, or at the real estate school. All of our local boards have events that include educational components and credits.

During our office meetings the broker used to have Realtor Sam report on where he found free CEUs. Our office was proud of Realtor Sam, and he was the go-to man for free CEU courses. He would sometimes take the same course a few years in a row if he liked it.

There are some agents in my market who don’t mind paying for courses but who will not take a course that doesn’t include CEUs. Our local boards won’t sponsor education that doesn’t include CEUs, and most of the real estate offices won’t either unless it is to fill up some time at the office meeting.

Our state department of commerce won’t approve some types of education that Realtors need to be successful. That isn’t really their function. They are a regulatory body and their focus is consumer protection.

Education is important in any occupation. It doesn’t require a college degree to become a Realtor or any kind of degree at all. States have determined what we need for education and how often. The education they have approved isn’t always very worthwhile.

It is up to each of us to educate ourselves. There are classes for Realtors, but there are also other classes, books and seminars focused on marketing, sales, running small businesses, computers, software, how to use Web 2.0 tools and much more.

I have been away from corporate America for eight years now. My previous employers used to require and provide a lot of training and education. Certainly more than 15 hours a year. I had to stay on top of my game to remain competitive and marketable.

One of the biggest concerns I have had as an agent is that I will lose touch with reality and the business world and that my skills will become stale and unmarketable instead of cutting edge. I worry about becoming obsolete, and I would become obsolete if I let the state and the real estate industry determine my educational needs.

Each year I set my own educational goals and come up with a plan on how to achieve them and a budget. Books have become an essential part of my education plan. When I choose my 15 hours of CEU I choose wisely.

The last time I heard from Realtor Sam was two years ago. He was excited because he was actually getting pretty good at using e-mail. I often wonder what would happen to him if for some reason he needed to get another job. I suspect he could get one but that it would involve wearing a hat and a name badge.

I will continue to develop my own education plan and pay for those classes, conferences and books that I find valuable, even if they are not state-approved. I’ll do it because I am worth the investment.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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