Grant Spotlight: H-1B Technical Skills Training Grants Program
Friday, July 15, 2011
By Vince Siragusa
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s current unemployment rate sits at an uninspiring 9%. And with today’s economy ripe for continued hard times, this issue is often alarmingly compounded by an associated lack of domestic skilled workers available to fill necessary positions. In that respect, we’re presented a most interesting dichotomy. President Obama, in a June speech in Durham, North Carolina, spoke plainly on this issue:
“Right now, there are more than four job-seekers for every job opening in America. But when it comes to science and high-tech fields, the opposite is true. The businesses represented here tell me they’re having a hard time finding high-skilled workers to fill their job openings...If we’re going to make sure the good jobs of tomorrow stay here in America… we’ve got to make sure all our companies have a steady stream of skilled workers to draw from.”
Congress has previously attempted to address portions of this ongoing scenario by establishing the H-1B Visa, a program, which allows US employers to temporarily hire foreign guest workers to serve in high-skill or specialty occupations. Gaining access to this new foreign workforce does come at a price to employers in the form of a user fee that must be paid in order to legally hire these foreign workers. Costs to the job seekers are equally steep as many are forced to sit on the side lines as “free agents” are brought in to fill those positions. Needless to say, there is much controversy on this visa issue, especially in light of the fact that many of these temporary guest workers send their earned wages back to their country of origin.
Driven by the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act, however, a portion of those employer-paid user fees has funded a new and innovative $240 million grant program for this Fiscal Year 2011. The H-1B Technical Skills Training Grants program is designed to provide education, training, and job placement assistance in the occupations and industries for which employers are using H-1B visas to hire foreign workers. Not only does the program intend to raise the technical skill levels of American workers so they can obtain or upgrade employment but, over time, these education and training programs will help businesses reduce their use of foreign professionals by having a larger pool of domestic workers from which to hire. For this fiscal year, 75 to 100 grants awards are anticipated with individual grant amounts ranging from $1 million to $5 million.
Two types of training grants are funded by the H-1B Technical Skills Training Grants, which include 1) On-the-Job Training (OJT) (at least $150 million will be awarded to grantees that provide OJT to all participants) and 2) Other training strategies which might include classroom occupational training; contextualized learning; distance learning; and customized training, including incumbent worker training, for particular employers or groups of employers.
In implementing either type of training program, applicants may propose using grant funds for a wide range of activities provided the project supports the direct education and training for participants. Eligible projects include but are not limited to: recruitment of eligible participants; initial assessment of skill levels, aptitudes, abilities, and competencies; job search and placement assistance; as well as career counseling and costs of program development and curriculum design. Activities and other related services not related to H-1B visas and high-growth industries are ineligible under this program.
Additionally, H-1B Technical Skills grants may be awarded to partnerships of private and public sector entities, which may include: business-related nonprofit organizations; education and training providers, including community colleges and community-based organizations; economic development agencies; and entities involved in administering the workforce investment system.
Applications for grant awards will be accepted over the course of two rounds with the next available deadline of November 17, 2011. Additional information is available at the U.S. Department of Labor (www.dol.gov/) or in the guidance document available at www.doleta.gov/grants/pdf/SGA-DFA-PY-10-13_Final_H-1BSGA.pdf.