Uncle Sam will Give You $6,000 to Learn a New Trade

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Want a free education to help you land a well-paying job?

If you have been laid off, Uncle Sam stands ready to pay up to $6,000 for you to start over and retrain for a career in an industry that is hiring.

The money, awarded through the federal Workforce Investment Act, can go toward an associate’s degree at a community college, classes at universities or vocational training for sought-after skills, such as repairing air conditioners, designing websites or learning Microsoft Office.

You could emerge as a registered nurse, a digital cartoonist or even a forklift operator.

At approved institutions, the money can be added to Pell Grants awarded to low-income students. That means you could receive $5,500 a year in Pell Grants as well as the one-time $6,000 Workforce Investment grant. There are no income limits for the federal retraining money.

You can get your $6,000 training grant as long as you are unemployed and have been certified to qualify by your state, which can take some time. You may also qualify if you were formerly self-employed or are a displaced homemaker.

Your state’s unemployment office, or what is called a One-Stop Center, administers the grants and has a list of approved classes and training for in-demand jobs.

Your center will give you a list of high-demand careers with approved educators, including expensive private schools. Classes may last two years or as little as a day or a week. As long as you qualify for the money, the government will pay for the cost of the training – even if you find work after starting.

However, you are out of luck if you find a new job before you get approved for the training.

The government is also not responsible for any tuition above $6,000. Students who want to take more expensive programs will have to apply for loans, Pell Grants, financial aid or scholarships – or pay extra tuition from their own pockets. Read our story on 5 Ways to Pay For College.

Counselors also warn that receiving the education does not guarantee a job. Weigh your job prospects carefully before signing up to pay extra tuition at private schools.

But the training has provided a stepping stone to a new job for many.

All those enrolled in accounting operations, administrative assistant, auto body repair, electrical, commercial food and surgical training programs at a Fort Lauderdale-area technical school won jobs, according to a survey released this spring. So did all those who received the government grant to train at Broward College in Florida for criminal justice, business administration, physical therapy or to become a registered nurse.

The CareerOneStop website, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, has a tool to help you find careers that are most in demand for people with your occupational level.

If you have at least a bachelor’s degree, the fastest-growing occupations are:

  • Biomedical engineer
  • Network systems and data communications analyst
  • Financial examiners
  • Medical scientists (except epidemiologists)
  • Physician assistants

For those without college degrees, the fastest-growing occupations are:

  • Home health aide
  • Personal and home care aide
  • Physical therapist aide
  • Dental assistant
  • Medical assistant

Donna Gehrke-White is a journalist and author in Florida.

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