Melissa Wegman’s family-owned furniture manufacturing company has thrived for half a century, but she says she’s worried about its future growth. The Cincinnati-based company is struggling to find workers with the right skills to do the job. And research shows she’s not alone. A recent NFIB survey found 24 percent of small business owners say finding qualified workers is their single most important problem; 86 percent of those trying to hire workers had few or no qualified applicants.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is launching a new competition that aims to solve this problem. The Makerspace Training, Collaboration and Hiring (MaTCH) pilot competition challenges organizations to create or expand job and skills training programs in existing makerspaces. The SBA will award up to $1 million to fund the winning proposals.

Makerspaces are collaborative places where people work to solve problems by sharing ideas and experiences and developing new skills. Many of them offer tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, soldering irons and sewing machines for community use. The SBA believes these makerspaces have the resources and ingenuity necessary to solve the problem small businesses face. They are uniquely positioned to boost workforce development by fostering vocational education, apprenticeships and entrepreneurship. And this competition can both empower creative thinking and strengthen the link between these spaces and their local communities. The ultimate goal — expanded job skills will offer working families a pathway to the middle class, and a skilled workforce will drive economic growth that benefits us all.

Through this MaTCH Pilot Competition, the SBA says it is hopeful participants will be placed immediately in positions with local employers that need skilled workers. Some of the competitors may even offer industry or trade certifications.

To enter the MaTCH Pilot Competition, applicants must submit a business plan that details their qualifications, experience and resources; the proposed training curriculum; the nature and length of the training/certification program; and the number of trainees that will be accommodated. Proposals must be submitted by July 8, and winners will be announced on August 6. The entry form, rules and requirements are available online at www.sba.gov/match.

America was built on innovation and creativity, with an eye toward solving the problems we face. The problem small business owners like Melissa Wegman are having demands a collaborative solution – and the SBA is confident this MaTCH competition will spark some bright ideas.

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