A New Path for Dislocated Workers: DOL Grants: Opportunity Knocks For Entrepreneurship Education
Monday, February 7, 2011
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
Across the country,community colleges are hard at work figuring out how to take advantage of the U.S. Department of Labor's intention to grant $2 billion to support programs that will help dislocated workers – those who have lost a job or are at risk of losing a job due to foreign trade – retool their skills and credentials. Through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act Community College Capacity Building Grants (TAACCG), the DOL will parcel out $500 million annually through 2014, with grant applications for 2011 due April 21. Of special interest to NACCE members, entrepreneurship education is one of the areas in which the DOL is encouraging applications.
"It is very exciting to have the DOL include entrepreneurship as one of its funding priorities,” said NACCE Executive Director Heather Van Sickle. "The notion of creating your own job instead of taking a job is attractive to many dislocated workers, especially if they have been through this experience before. Dislocated workers have considerable work experience that positions them to create their own jobs, either as solopreneurs or as small business owners. They can use this time out of work as an opportunity to gain the skills they need to succeed in that arena. We are certain NACCE members can compete effectively for these grants. Many excellent entrepreneurship programs are already in place that can be expanded and replicated on other campuses, and they have the know-how to develop new programs if they receive the necessary funding.”
According to NACCE Board member Wayne Swann, an entrepreneur who is also an adjunct at Howard Community College in Maryland, dislocated workers are a population community colleges are already serving, including providing skills and advice that will lead to new business creation. "At community colleges you have younger students who want to learn about entrepreneurship and who may use those skills sometime down the road,” he said, "but you also have a large number of older students who are actually going out and starting a company now; they need the concepts of entrepreneurship in real time.”
Think Outside the Box
Individual grants will be from $2.5 to $5 million while consortiums of two or more colleges are eligible to receive up to $20 million. Every state will get at least one grant. There is no obligation to obtain matching funds, but since the funding is only for four years, building program sustainability beyond that time frame is being emphasized. Evaluation is a major piece of the program; the DOL intends to make public data regarding outcomes such as enrollment, retention, and completion of programs and jobs or businesses created.
NACCE staff and board members have spoken with DOL Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training Jane Oates to obtain information about the program. According to Oates, "Few people would disagree when I say that community colleges in particular have been hard hit by state budget constraints over the last 10 years, and therefore their ability to think outside the box and to modernize existing programs has been severely limited. Our hope is that community colleges will say, ‘This is what we would do if money weren't an object,' and pursue this with these grants.
"In terms of entrepreneurship course work, this is a great opportunity to put all your courses related to starting a business together as a credential,” Oates added. "I think someone who is starting their own business may know they need a course in marketing or finance, but they have no idea what else they need because they have a targeted skill but have probably not owned their own business before. The number of businesses that fail early on is reason enough for me to think that community colleges should make their program for business owners or new business owners much more transparent.”
Community Partnerships Essential
As part of its effort to help community colleges become more customer-centric, the DOL requires each grant request to include a community partner that is helping the school identify and address the needs of their community or region. "Community colleges applying on their own will be non-responsive,” explained Oates. "They have to have a business partner, and in many cases this will be a local company. But since entrepreneurial training doesn't lend itself to partnering with a specific business, they will have to think outside the box. They could partner with the chamber of commerce or the EDC, for example. In the past community colleges have written curriculum by themselves, but this grant is saying that's not going to work any more; you have to write the curriculum with experts in that field – those business people who know what it takes and are, in the best case scenario, helping you rewrite your program to meet today's needs in your community.”
As an example of identifying and responding to community needs, NACCE Board member Cem Erdem, the entrepreneur who heads Augusoft, Inc., has founded Project Skyway in his hometown of Minneapolis, MN. This tech accelerator program, which is described in-depth in an article on page 21, will address the problem Minnesota has in creating new companies. "We are fifth from the bottom in the nation when it comes to entrepreneurial activity,” said Erdem. "We have the intellectual capacity, but that is not generating new companies. There is no seed capital going to companies here. Project Skyway will help students coming from community colleges build their investor skills and prepare them to seek early stage investment.”
Erdem is actively seeking to partner with community colleges to bring Project Skyway to other cities around the country; he believes his initiative would serve as a good community partner for a college or consortium of colleges hoping to obtain DOL grants. "If there are other areas in the country that are weak in entrepreneurial activity like our state is, we have a framework they can connect to,” he said.
Don't Miss This!
NACCE is also interested in serving as a resource for members in regard to the TAACCG program. "We welcome the opportunity to discuss with members how NACCE can assist you in fulfilling the requirements of these grants,” said Van Sickle. "Given our large membership base focused on entrepreneurship, we have the capability to connect colleges as they form consortiums and seek to build a portion of their request to build their capacity for entrepreneurship education. This is a tremendous opportunity for community colleges, and we are committed to doing everything possible to help members put together successful grant proposals.”
Finally, as Erdem put it, "This is a chance to build your entrepreneurship program; don't miss it!”
NACCE has receiveda number of inquiries on what types of entrepreneurial activities are being undertaken by community colleges and what NACCE's role might be in this regard. NACCE is happy to facilitate the discussion and assist in matching schools with an interest in exploring the entrepreneurship training as a portion of their overall grant strategy. If you are planning on incorporating entrepreneurship into your grant request, please let us know and we will build a repository of this information to share with our members. In addition, NACCE offers the following:
- NACCE will have available in February the first booklet of an ongoing series showcasing effective practices for community colleges embracing entrepreneurship as a career pathway. The focus is to improve the competency of colleges in offering entrepreneurship, and thus improving college programs.
- NACCE's vision is to have all community colleges offering entrepreneurship throughout the college including bridging the gap between credit and non-credit sides of the campus. NACCE encourages all community colleges to think about building their capacity to provide both the skills needed for the job and the ability to know how to create a job if one cannot be found. Entrepreneurial skills will serve this population well no matter the outcome: an employee or potential employer.
- NACCE may serve as a national advisor/promoter/disseminator of information and/or evaluator of unique entrepreneurship programs that have the potential to be implemented nationwide.