DO YOU KNOW that you may be entitled to a free training grant or a free college education?

FREE.  I’ll say it again. Yes, Free.

Grants through the Workforce Investment & Opportunity Act (WIOA) are available through your individual State.  These grants are available in every state and can provide you with valuable new skills to enhance your experience and help you become more easily employable in your field, or a new field.

WIOA Training grants are handled at the County level, so you need to do a little research to connect with the correct office.  Start by doing a Google search (or Bing/Yahoo if you prefer) for “WIOA grants [your county] replacing the words [your county] with your actual county of course.

You must make an appointment with a career counselor, who will likely direct you to some “orientation” program which you must complete first.  These are generally just a couple of hours and explain all the job-support resources that are available to you, probably including:

  • job fairs
  • computers available for you to use
  • resume assistance
  • interview practice
  • …. and more

Once you complete the orientation, you fill out a bunch of paperwork (be ready to prove your citizenship with a valid passport or an original birth certificate).  And you must follow the instructions precisely, including when you do things.  Don’t miss any appointments, and be responsive to all calls and emails.

In NJ, there’s a a website where you can look at all the programs available to you, and you can query by industry, by job function, by training provider or within a certain radius of your home.

And it’s not just “PMI Ceritification with Agile” or “Supply Chain/Logistics” programs that are available (although those are two which are).  You can be trained and receive a certificate in things like:

  • Liscensed Practical Nursing
  • Medical Assistant
  • Dental Assistant
  • Medical Billing Certification
  • IEC Elictrician Apprentice
  • PMI Certification w/Agile/Scrum
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Microsoft Office
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Graphic Arts
  • Computer Programming (web development, CSS, Java, Swift, and more)
  • Web Application Development
  • Professional Dog Groomer
  • Forklift Operations
  • Executive Non Profit Leadership
  • Bartending
  • Cosmtology
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate
  • Microsoft Certification
  • CCNA Wireless Certificatioin
  • Automotive Techology
  • Certificate in Human Resources Professional-Generalist
  • ….and more!

Hard to believe, isn’t it?  It’s real. I promise.

The folks at my County’s Workforce Development Office were super nice and very helpful. They all seem to have had corporate careers before they landed there.

The process can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to get all the paperwork in, meet all the criteria, and get approved.  In general, if you’ve been laid off and have not found a job, and your unemployment benefits have run out, you will likely be approved for a WIOA grant.

Grants can be up to $4,000, must be spent all at the same school (some schools offer multiple courses, so you may be able to work with the school to take more than one course/program.

For example, if you are interested in a Project Mangement/PMI Certification (With Agile) and the program costs $3,000, you may be able to find additional courses of interest — at that same school — and use up the remaining $1,000 of your total $4,000 grant.  This is not guaranteed, but many schools will work with you to get your grant money, and if it means letting you take another course, they’re fine with it.

You must be unemployed with no income of your own in order to be qualified for the WIOA grant, but what’s interesting (and helpful for many) is that if you happen to GET a job while you are in the training, you are free to accept that job and still finish your training program!  Yes, once you are approved for the grant, the money goes to the school, and if you find a job, it’s up to you to figure out how to complete the program while working, but you don’t have to give back the grant money.  That is fabulous.


  1. Laid off from a job or have received a layoff notice
  2. Terminated from the previous job, but eligible for unemployment insurance
  3. Formerly self-employed
  4. Displaced home-maker: individual providing unpaid services in the home who has lost their financial support (i.e., divorced stay-at-home-moms)
  5. Low income: household income falls beneath local poverty guidelines.


  • Training programs must be completed in 12 months or less
  • Training may b online or in person, part time or full time
  • Training must be for “in demand” occupations (this will be noted on your county’s program search website.
  • The application process takes 3-4 weeks from the attendance of orientation to grant approval.
  • Applicants must first register at their local Employment Services offices in person or online.
  • If you have exhausted your Unemployment Benefits, and pursue a WIOA grant, your Unemployment Benefits payments may be re-started and continue for the duration of your training program — up to a maximum of an additional 26 weeks of UI benefits.

*This last point is super important….. it means – when your unemployment checks run out, you can get extended for up to another 6 months.  For anyone wanting re-training or another certificate, you may apply for a WIOA grant before your UI benefits run out… however most folks try to find a job first while collecting their UI, then if after 6 months the unemployment money runs out and they still have not found a job, they generally turn to WIOA.

BUT (as in the immortal words of Steve Jobs) — THERE’S MORE!

Did you know that in addition to WIOA grants, you may qualify to get an undergraduate degree from a college in your state?  For FREE?  Yes, that’s right. Free.

It’s called (at least in my state) the “Tuition-Free College Program for Unemployed Persons”  Sexy, huh?  Well, it IS!

What this means is that if you qualify, you can go to college (or go back to college) for free.  Get a whole B.S or B.A. or even a Master’s degree.

In my state (NJ) — Here are the eligibility criteria:

  • Must be currently unemployed or have a layoff notice and;
  • Must have been in the labor market for at least 2 years (working full time, looking for work or combination thereof)
  • Must be a NJ resident


  • Register with NJ State Employment Services
  • Present layoff notice (this is why you want a bunch of copies of your surplus letter – you may be handing them out all over)
  • You must provide your own books, materials, general fees, etc.
  • The college will require you to file for Financial Aid
  • Must schedule an appointment with employment counselor to obtain Tuition Waiver
  • In order to receive Unemployment Insurance Benefits while attending school through Tuition Waiver program, you must get approval from the Unemployment Office.

At last check, there were over 30 colleges in NJ participating in this program, including:

  • Rutgers University
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Montclair State University
  • Kean University
  • The College of NJ
  • ….and more!

Seriously, if you have been laid off or even if you’ve “retired” but don’t plan to retire (no drawing of the pension, the 401K or SSI benefits) you can totally take advantage of either of these government programs.  If you don’t want to go back to school, then the state still offers great job-hunting assistance from resume preparation help to mock interviews and more.  Check out what your state has available today.  I can’t say enough good things about New Jersey’s program.