Are there grants for people changing careers?

computer training
Job retraining programs are designed to give workers the skills they need to become more competitive in the job market.
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In 2008, Laura Peters lost her job as a paralegal. With money tight and bills stacking up, the Santa Monica, Calif., resident decided to change careers and seek work in a more stable industry where layoffs were few and paychecks constant. Peters set her sights on health care, but needed to learn new skills [source: Semuels].

As a result, Peters shuffled off to UCLA hoping to enroll in the university's worker retraining program. Unfortunately, Peters couldn't afford the $5,000 in fees and she put her new career on hold. Then early in 2009, Peters and other unemployed Californians got some good news. They could apply for job-retraining grants to pay for certificate programs in high-skill industries, including health care [source: Semuels].


The money came from $415 million in federal stimulus funds awarded to the state to help displaced workers. In California, the money was nearly double the amount coming from Washington through the Workforce Investment Act, a 1998 law written to put the unemployed back to work. Peters took advantage of the new program [source: Semuels].

Job training programs have become important in today's shaky economy. The programs are designed to give workers the skills they need to become more competitive in the job market. Some programs are rather generic, providing workers with new computer or interviewing skills, while other programs are more intensive, teaching workers skills for jobs. Either way, training for a career is not only nerve-wracking, but also expensive. An associate's degree at a community college can cost between $6,000 and $7,000, while an advanced degree can cost much more, as much as six to seven times more [source: PBS].

Luckily, there are many financial aid programs that can help the unemployed pay for retraining. Some of those programs provide workers with grants that individuals don't have to pay back. On the next page, we'll look at what types of job retraining grants are available.


Government Help

President Obama
On Feb. 17, 2009 in Denver, President Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill that helped increase unemployment benefits and provide grants for job retraining programs.
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The federal government is the No. 1 source of job training money. The feds dole the money out to state and local organizations, which then allocate the grants to various groups of workers.

Most of the money comes from the 1998 Workforce Investment Act. The law rewrote the federal statutes governing job-training programs to make it easier for state and local officials to use federal dollars to train workers [source: U.S. Department of Employee Services]. Moreover, when the Great Recession ravaged the economy in 2009, President Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package that provided billions of dollars in job-retraining funds [source: Clark]. But the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus package, was never meant to be a long-term fix, and much of its funding has either already expired or is in the process of winding down as of late summer 2011.


The good thing about all this cash is that most of it is free. All you have to do is ask. Workers seeking to improve or learn new skills don't have to pay the money back as long as they are in training. What's the catch? None. It's in the government's best interest to put as many people back to work as possible.

The government provides most grants through local governments, community-based organizations, including not-for-profits and community colleges and technical schools. Local One Stop Career Centers administer the grants. The types of training can vary depending on the community.

However, the government isn't going to come and hand you a wad of dough. You need to spend time researching what grants might be available to help you. The government targets specific groups, such as farm workers, autoworkers, union workers, even dancers for assistance.

For example, younger workers can find help through the Job Corps, the largest job training and education program for young people who are at least 16 years old and who qualify as low income. The program offers students hands-on training in more than 100 career fields. Job Corps also helps students earn a high school diploma or a GED. For those who already graduated from high school, Job Corps helps them prepare for college [source: Job Corps].

The government also provides grants so displaced workers can attend local community colleges to learn complicated job skills [source: United States Department of Labor]. And the U.S. Department of Labor provides millions of dollars to help people transition into "green careers," including jobs in solar power and biofuel [source: United States Department of Labor].

The National Farm Worker Jobs Program helps migrant and seasonal farm workers attain new job skills in occupations that offer higher wages and more stable employment. Working with local employment groups, the money pays for classroom and on-the-job training. The program also provides support services such as child care, temporary housing and courses in nutrition [source: United States Department of Labor].

The government is not alone in providing grants for job retraining. Go to the next page to see which private foundations also offer job grant money.


Private Help

Armand Fiaschetti once worked as a car salesperson and a security guard. That was many years ago. At 78, the Syracuse, N.Y., resident is elderly, frail and hard of hearing. His hands shake violently [source: Experience Works].

In short, Fiaschetti isn't exactly the most employable person in the world. Yet, when he needed a job, he got one with help from Experience Works, a national non-profit organization that helps older people train for jobs. Fiaschetti now works at a local senior center. Not only does the job provide Fiaschettie with extra income, it's also allowed him to make wonderful new friends at the center.


For years, Experience Works has been helping low-income individuals, mostly the elderly, find work. Most of its money comes from private foundations, such as the Walmart Foundation. Last year, the foundation awarded $6.5 million in grants to programs to help displaced workers [source: Walmart Foundation].

Most private foundations provide money to local groups and community organizations, which then service the needs of their unemployed clients [source: U.S. Government Grants]. For example, Lilly Endowment has provided hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to help people train and find jobs. In 2009 the foundation awarded $2.3 million to Indiana's Private Industry Council to continue a jobs program through 2011 [source: Indiana Business Journal]. The endowment also awarded Indiana University $2.75 million to promote internships, job placement and to encourage entrepreneurs [source: Indiana University].

Even ice cream company Ben & Jerry's has found a way to help workers. The company has more than a dozen so-called PartnerShops. These ice cream shops offer job and entrepreneurial training to youth and young adults that otherwise might have a tough time finding work. The first PartnerShop franchise opened in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1987 [source: Ben & Jerry's].

The amount of private job-training grants can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. For example, grants from the Ben & Jerry's Foundation vary from $5,000 to $15,000, while Goodwill Industries International awards job-training grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 [sources: Ben & Jerry's Foundation; Goodwill Industries International].

Whether it is public or private money, helping people transition into the workforce is an important aspect of keeping the economy healthy. While there might be some disagreement on whether job-training programs are effective, there is no denying that they give people a sense of hope and direction.


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More Great Links

  • Ben & Jerry's Foundation. (July, 2011).
  • Ben & Jerry's. "PartnerShops." (July, 2011).
  • Clark, Kim. "Jobless Overwhelm Retraining Programs." U.S. News and World Report. Jan. 4, 2010. (July, 2011).
  • Experience Works. "2008 Annual Report." (July, 2011).
  • Goodwill International. (July, 2011).
  • Indiana University. "Lilly Endowment awards IU $2.75 million for internships, economic partnerships, entrepreneurship." Nov. 20, 2008. (July, 2011).
  • Indianapolis Business Journal. "Lilly Endowment grant extends jobs program." Dec. 1, 2009. (July, 2011).
  • Job Corps. "Success Lasts a Lifetime with Job Corps." (July, 2011).
  • "Reviving the Economy: Jobs—The American Recovery and Reinvestment Law." Feb. 17, 2009. (July, 2011).
  • Semuels, Alana. "Retraining program welcomes white-collar workers." Los Angeles Times. Jan. 15, 2010. (July, 2011).
  • U.S. Department of Employment Services. "Workforce Investment Act (Summary Overview)." (July, 2011).,a,1233,q,538380.asp#ovw
  • U.S. Department of Labor. "Green Jobs Innovation Fund." (July, 2011).
  • U.S. Department of Labor. "Community-Based Job Training Grants." (July, 2011).
  • U.S. Department of Labor. "National Farmworker Jobs Program Fact Sheet."
  • U.S. Government Grant. "Job Counseling Grants." (July, 2011).
  • "Walmart Foundation's Job Training Initiative. (July, 2011).