The following is an anonymous guest blog post by a greyzone client. In this post, my client has shared her experience finding funding for training during COVID-19. Her story is specific to Illinois, so if you’re seeking this information for a different state, perhaps look for a similar training vendor near you.
When I was first laid off in the fall of 2019 I joined a number of career support groups that offered mentors, workshops, and services for unemployed individuals. Early on, several people mentioned WIOA – the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act – which provides subsidized or paid training for the unemployed. I spent months trying to find information online, calling IDES, DHS and other state and federal agencies to try to see if I could qualify for this program. Although I had received a lot of training offered through my company, I had never made time to get many of the certifications that showed off my credentials and expertise during my nearly 10 years at my most recent job.
Now I found myself applying for, and being passed over for, jobs that asked for credentials like “Scrum Master’ “PMP” (Project Manager Professional) “Certified Energy Manager” and “LEAN Six Sigma.” I had none of these. I was also interested in updating my coding experience since the computer language I had learned in college was now ancient.
Yet the Illinois Jobs Link site that IDES asks people to register with when they apply for unemployment had very little information on training programs that applied to my career – I was only finding programs for truck drivers, getting your GED, etc… I gave up, assuming that WIOA was more for skilled workers.
Months later, close to job offers, COVID-19 hit and the companies I had been pursuing put a hiring freeze in place. The job market essentially dried up. I continued applying for jobs, pursuing networking meetings virtually, and re-doubled my efforts on LinkedIn. One day I saw a post about how those who were unemployed could use this time at home to update their credentials and learn new skills through training paid via WIOA grants. They listed many of the very credentials I had been seeking as options – Agile/Scrum Master, PMP, Six Sigma, and more. I was invited to attend a webinar to learn more about WIOA and how I could apply.
Through the webinar I learned that WIOA is managed by each county, and that part of the challenge in getting the word out is that some counties (like mine) only have one or two small WIOA offices. There are not many resources for them to promote the program. Dupage County in Illinois poured resources into their WIOA offices when COVID-19 hit, and thus saw a huge increase in program applicants. Dupage increased their staff and turnover time for processing applications was greatly reduced.
In most cases, here is how to get started:
- Start by checking out this website.
- Provide a lot of documents (pictures and screenshots are fine), such as Social Security card, Driver’s License, proof of unemployment and any income, birth certificate, your job search log, etc.
- Register for two state job search/support websites, upload your resume, and take the steps outlined in the application checklist on each of these sites.
- Provide 3-5 job postings you have applied for, or would like to apply for, that list specific certifications or skills in their requirements that you do not have. Spend some time researching your career area’s labor market and how training impacts the ability to advance in your career goals (they provide websites for this research).
- Research training vendors registered as WIOA providers (link and selection guides are provided), what each offers, dates and locations of their courses offered and create a “proposal” of training you’d like to take. Reach out to the training vendors to ask them to create a letter of intent for you in how they can help you meet your career goals, what classes you can take with them (dates and locations included) and the cost (note that all the vendors are offering classes remotely now and through the summer, although they are live so you must attend during the set times of the course.) Since most counties grant anywhere between $5,000-$10,000 per person to use on courses, this means that you will likely be able to take 2-6 courses depending on their hours required for a certification and cost. The cost is also significantly reduced when the proposal is put together for a WIOA application, and in many cases the vendor will provide a scholarship to cover the rest of what the WIOA grant does not cover. The cost of the course includes the fee to take the certification test and many vendors offer a pass guarantee – meaning if you don’t pass the test the first time, they will pay for you to take it again until you do pass.
- Select one training vendor’s proposal and submit it to your WIOA office as part of your application.
- You will have an interview with the WIOA office once you have submitted all pieces of the application. Once you are accepted into the program, you will be assigned a career coach, you’ll receive a PO with the amount of money you were approved for to be applied towards the vendor you selected. Classes begin right away.
A few hints regarding the application process:
- You must apply in the county in which you reside. Once you begin applying with one office, it is hard to switch your application to another office. The office I initiated contact with responded to my request to apply within a couple of days and processed all of my paperwork within a day or two after I submitted it, thus allowing me to complete my whole application process in just 10 days. Some vendors have more knowledge of the ins and outs than others and some offices are better than others at response times and services, so it’s best to get a recommendation.
- Once you select a training vendor for your coursework and WIOA accepts you, you cannot switch training vendors. You must take all your courses through that training vendor, so it is worth doing some research on training vendors before you select one.
- It’s important to review all vendors before selecting one and not only look at class titles, but also get syllabi for each class to ensure the content you need is provided. Be sure to verify the dates the class is offered and confirm if it’s in person or online. In my research I noticed that many vendors hadn’t updated that their classes had been cancelled due to Covid.
Most vendors provide informational webinars and there should be no obligation to use their company for your training. A good vendor will be honest with you about the type of training courses their company focuses on and may be able to provide advice on which credentials and training would most helpful in your career advancement. Be discerning when moving forward, but do take advantage of this generous program.