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A Different Kind of Training ROI

Friday, September 1, 2006
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If you stay up late watching old movies on cable, you may recognize Matthew Lesko, an odd little man in a purple suit reminiscent of the evil villain known as The Riddler on the Batman TV show. He's a pitchman for the Free Money series of books, which lists the many government grants and loans that are available to consumers.

He's not the only one working this angle. Every year, more than $1 billion is awarded to companies throughout the United States to offset the cost of training new and existing employees. In 2005, there were more than 150 incentive programs available at the state level, solely for training employees.

And there are companies that help employers learn about various state training grants, including how to get through the application and approval process to maximize one's award.

"Some states will offer multimillion-dollar awards to lure or keep major corporations within their borders," says Peter Green, vice president of business development at W. Ray Wallace & Associates, based in Alpharetta, Ga. Others might consider upgrading statewide skill sets and competencies a top priority, he adds.

"Each state has its own economic-development goals and most provide financial incentives to companies whose training programs support these goals."

According to Green, state governments will pay for instructor salaries, employee wages during training, development of training programs (both the internal and external costs), materials and supplies, instructional media, equipment used for training and reasonable travel costs. Money could be available to conduct courses on new technology, new equipment, software implementations and upgrades, total quality management, even team-building and leadership, all skills likely to enhance the state's overall workforce.

Green says some states have fixed amounts of grant money available, and don't promote the grant offerings much, with the result that the money sometimes goes unused. But other states make it a point to find recipients.

"For example, in Florida each county is in competition as to how much they can give away," he says. "It shows good economic-development activity."

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Don't assume that your company may not be eligible, Green says. "A common misconception is that many of these types of training incentives are designed for and only apply to the manufacturing industry," he says. "In fact, almost any industry can win a training grant. Criteria focuses more on supporting the types of training the state wants to promote for its workforce than on the type of industry."

Green suggests starting with the state's Web site, which should point you in the right direction. From there, "talk with the local state officials responsible for administering and approving your local program." Knowing exactly what those officials are looking for could help with your application approval." 

The necessary research into the grants your state offers will require an investment of man-hours, but the payoff could be worth it: You may find a way to have the training department bring in money, instead of just spending it.

That's likely to make a CEO sit up and take notice. And you won't even have to wear a purple suit.

Christopher Cornell can be e-mailed at ccornell@lrp.com.

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