Construction Contractors Should Consider Fast Forward Grants For Skills Gap

contractors at presentation
Rita Atkinson of DWD provides an overview of Wisconsin Fast Forward Grants to ABC of Wisconsin members.

Wisconsin Fast Forward (WFF) training grants have provided training for more than 20,000 Wisconsin workers since 2013. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) would like more construction contractors to take advantage of the program.

The program was established to address the skills gap in industries where worker shortages are immense, such as construction. Rita Atkinson, director of the Office of Skills Development for DWD, provided an overview of Wisconsin Fast Forward to ABC of Wisconsin members during a recent Workforce Development Shared Interest Group meeting. She said the program is designed as employer-led training to get workers the skills they need as fast as they can.

“What we’re looking for from the employer who partners on these grants is they commit to the trainees that are trained under this program,” Atkinson said. “It’s not like the technical college where the trainee gets out on the street and might not have a job at the end of the training. If they’re going through this training, there’s a guarantee.”

Atkinson said for incumbent workers, this means either a raise in pay, a better position and/or a move from part time to full time.

“It puts them on the progression track,” Atkinson said.

Applicants can apply for up to $400,000 per year. The minimum match is 1:1 for larger employers, while the match for small businesses (less than 50 employees) is 50 cents on the dollar. Applicants do not receive the grant money until the training is completed and the state can determine success in the training.

Atkinson said the match can be in many forms, such as the cost of the training facility (even if it is your own) or the instructor’s time (even if it is an employee).

“The number one item and the easiest to use for match is trainee wages,” Atkinson said. “If they’re being paid for the time they are in training, every dollar of their salary can be used toward match.”

What makes a successful WFF grant application?

  • Provide the basics:
  • Why do you need this grant?
  • Who is impacted by the grant?
  • What is going to be accomplished through this grant?
  • How does a grant help you achieve goals?
  • Is grant written so anyone can understand it?

Trainee Types:

  • Incumbent worker: current employees on payroll prior to submission.
  • New hire trainees: on payroll during training, but hired after release of the grant program announcement.
  • Unemployed trainees: do not have a job at time of training, but are intended to be employed with project partner following training.
  • Underemployed trainees: part time prior to training, or a worker employed but not in a capacity that reflects their skills and experience in terms of compensation, hours or responsibility.

Other state grant money may not be used as matching dollars. Five percent of the grant can be used for administrative costs, such as recruitment of trainees, reporting; finding a training location; anything that supports the grant that is not instruction or curriculum development.

Atkinson doesn’t want potential applicants to perceive this as a typical grant-writing process.

Atkinson’s department has a number of tools for applicants, including a project planning guide to make the process relatively easy to complete.

“You don’t need a grant writer to apply,” she said.

Stevens Construction Corp. applied for a grant in a very short time frame after hearing about it from ABC of Wisconsin. Dena Gullickson, human resources manager at Stevens Construction Corp., said there were some unknowns and hesitation because companies are required to submit company financials and wage information.

“We had never done anything like this before,” Gullickson said. “There were questions that went back and forth a little bit for maybe 10 days.

“We kind of went big,” she added. “We wrote a grant for over $300,000, not knowing … if we would get half of it, that would be fantastic.”

The company was awarded everything they asked for.

“We were like, ‘This is awesome, now let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work,’” Gullickson added. “I’m a huge supporter of the program because I’m seeing it work within our company.”

DWD is awarding grants to about 75 to 80 percent of the applicants they receive. The applicants who work closely with her department before submitting grant requests to the evaluation committee seem to be more successful.

There is $11.5 million in the program this year and she doesn’t see it going away any time soon. While DWD has significant grant money available and they want companies to get the money, they won’t just give it away to anyone without some investment. You must ask yourself how you can address a skills gap.

“We don’t fund business as usual,” Atkinson said. “We’re looking for what you’re doing to make it different so you’re more successful in getting rid of that skills gap,” she said.

There are resources available at DWD:

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