8 Keys to a Winning CTE Grant Proposal
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We’re seeing more funding flow into education than perhaps ever before, especially with new CTE grants becoming available. Some is meant to help schools recover from the lasting effects of the pandemic and hedge against a similar disruption in the future.

Another large portion of funding is to help build a pipeline of students who are career-ready. With labor shortages plaguing every sector of our economy, schools can help train up the next generation workforce to be ready to take on high-tech, high-demand jobs.

How Do I Write a Grant Proposal That Gets Funded?

Before we get to the details, keep these guiding principles in mind: Your grant proposal should be impactful, relevant, and focused on the student. Before you put pen to paper, make sure your initiative is aligned to these three principles. You’ll find that these keywords are integrated into each of our keys to a winning CTE grant proposal.

If you’re a district looking to apply for one of the many federal, state or private grants out there, these 8 keys will guide your grant writing process. We’ve used these methods for years, and we’ve seen great success in the number of proposals that are funded.

1. Build a story around student success

This is a great place to start because your narrative will guide your entire grant proposal.

As an educator, your number one goal is to support your students and provide them opportunities to pursue the careers of their dreams. Make sure this comes through in the language of your proposal. In fact, this exercise is a great way to make sure your own goals remained centered on what’s most important.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’re looking to update a CTE lab with a suite of automation equipment. When describing the purpose of the project, you could say,

“Our lab’s equipment has not been updated in several decades. This equipment is outdated, difficult to maintain, and isn’t up to par with what our local industry is using. New automation systems will be safer and teach our students more relevant skills.”

Or you could say,

“Industry 4.0 is alive in well in industry today, and with hands-on exposure to such equipment in our proposed lab, our students will gain relevant skills to secure high-wage, high-tech jobs right here in the region. Replacing our outdated equipment with new automation systems will attract students of all interests, grow enrollment in our program, and create a pipeline of students ready for the workforce or prepared to pursue these skills in their higher education pathway.”

Each proposal is looking to accomplish the same goals: replace old equipment with new automation systems and teach relevant skills for today’s workforce. But the first proposal focuses on the equipment needs alone, while the second creates an engaging narrative that focuses on the impact of the project on the student and whole community.

If your proposal doesn’t have student success in every section, you’re missing the opportunity to stand out.

2. Buying equipment? Make sure it’s industry-grade

Technology in the industrial sector is advancing like never before, and it’s difficult for education to keep up. Many high school Tech Ed programs are using equipment that’s decades old, outdated and looks nothing like what students will see in the workforce.

If you’re a technical education instructor going for a CTE grant, your application most likely includes (or is fully dedicated to) equipment purchases. Make sure the equipment you’re looking at is on par with what’s being used in the workforce. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. What technologies are my local employers currently using and investing in over the next 5 years?

Not only will you know what equipment to start looking for, you’ll also be able to easily say no to a whole host of technology that isn’t relevant in the workforce anymore.Use industry-relevant equipment in your CTE grant proposal

Incidentally, if you ask employers what equipment they’re using, they’ll be curious why you’re asking. This could ignite a great conversation that will get them excited about what you’re doing in your program. And it could lead to an amazing partnership (see #5 below).

2. What brand(s) are most popular and relevant in the workforce?

This can apply to CNC machines, PLCs, industrial robots, etc.

Many of these same manufacturers have education-specific training systems or models that are the right size and price point for education.

3. Is the equipment I’m looking at industrial-grade?

This particulary applies to equipment like robots, 3D printers, and other automation technology.

The flip-side to not knowing what brands are being used in the workforce is that you may buy a piece of equipment that really isn’t designed or built to teach real-world skills.

Suggested: If you’re looking for industry-grade equipment from all things advanced manufacturing to computer science, take a look at our products from the world’s leading manufacturers of technical training equipment and curriculum.

3. Build in certifications and micro-credentials

Career and technical education is all about workforce readiness, no matter the next step for a high schooler. Building in third-party, industry-recognized credentials to your grant application as a major outcome is a great way to build credibility for your project. It will also greatly benefit your students as they build their resume and skillset for whatever comes next.

Talk to your post-secondary partners and local employers about what certifications they value the most. If your students can earn these credentials in high school, it can make transitioning to post-secondary much easier. Or if they choose to go direct to workforce, it will help prospective employers understand what their skillset is.

Another reason this is beneficial on grant applications is because many states have achievement goals for credentials in place and will incentivize schools to offer these to students.

For example, Michigan’s 60 by 30 initiative set a goal that every adult will have earned a post-secondary degree or industry-recognized credential by 2030. What grant committee wouldn’t love to see a proposal that helps meet statewide goals?

As another example, in Wisconsin the CTE Incentive Grants reward districts for implementing credentials. Each student who receives a credential can earn up to $1,000 for their school. When considering how your new initiative can fund itself after the grant period ends (see #6 below), this kind of evergreen funding is a great asset.

Here are just a few industry-recognized certification bodies we suggest: Manufacturing Skill Standards Council, Smart Automation Certification Alliance, NOCTI (for FANUC Robotics certifications).

4. Get support from your region’s post-secondary institutions

The strongest grant applications are ones that can build a story for how the program is going to impact students in the long-term. If you’re launching a new program, course or lab, then work with your local post-secondary institutions to see how you can build alignment.

Is there an opportunity for dual enrollment or articulated credits? Do your post-secondary partners value the same certification and credentials you’re looking into? What types of curriculum or training equipment do they use that might fit well into your labs?

If you can create a pathway into higher education in your CTE grant application, it’s going to stand out to the selection committee.

Suggested: Wisconsin Educators Embrace Industry 4.0 Pathways

5. Get support from industry partners

Many CTE grants require letters of support from different organizations. We take it for granted that schools and industrial partners should already know each other and be working together in some capacity, though this certainly isn’t a given.

This is your opportunity to facilitate a conversation with your local industrial employers about their very real talent and skill needs, and how your school can partner with them.

Creating a project, updating a lab or starting a program is a great way to build stronger relationships with local employers. Bring them into the conversation from the very beginning. Integrate them into every aspect of the project. Make the partnership a public and interative one, especially in front of students and parents. This can spark a long-term relationship that goes beyong the grant period and benefits both parties.

If you do this, you’re likely to get more than a letter of support. You may also get:

Suggested Video: The 7 Secrets to Education-Industry Partnerships

Suggested: 3 Ways Your Business Should Invest in Students

6. Have a plan for funding beyond the CTE grant period

Launching a new initiative, program or project is the most expensive part of the process. Whether its equipment costs, building construction, talent acquisition or instructor training, the up-front funding is often a barrier to schools launching something new. This is where grants come in; many schools leverage grants to get a new project off the ground.

However, the last thing you want for your students is to offer a new course, build a new lab or launch a club that can’t sustain itself after the grant period ends.

Many grant applications require you to lay out a plan for the long-term, but it’s a good practice to instill regardless. One option would be to reapply for the same grant in the next cycle, assuming it’s a recurring opportunity. But a stronger strategy would be to pull engagement and outcome data from the pilot that you leveraged the grant funds for, then bring this to your industry partners or administration to continue funding.

Suggested: Four Schools, Four Businesses Partner to Bring Industry 4.0 to Students

7. Plan to scale

It goes without saying that the more students you’re able to impact with your grant dollars, the better.

Just make sure you set yourself up with realistic goals about how many students you’ll be able to reach initially. Plan to launch with a pilot group of students, followed by a long-term plan to scale. As you start to see progress, make some noise about the effectiveness of the new class. Tell parents. Share student stories on your website and social media. This is a great way to attract more students to enroll.

If this is your plan, lay it out clearly in the grant proposal. Be realistic about how many students you expect to reach in year 1, how many more in year 2, etc. Then be prepared to track those metrics if your proposal is approved.

Suggested: Four Ways to Increase CTE Enrollment

8. Details, details, details!

Every CTE grant is different in terms of application requirements, letters of support, follow-up data, timelines, etc. Make sure you read the fine print to know what’s expected of you and your partners.

Focusing on the details can earn you more points. In some cases, grant applications come with a scoring rubric that breaks down each section of the application into point values. Those point values have descriptions that give you a good idea of what the selection committee is looking for.

While your project should always incorporate all of the above points, also remember to write the application to fit the rubric. Answer the questions according to what details are being asked for (all while telling a compelling narrative, of course). You may have a groundbreaking, incredibly amazing project idea, but paying attention to the details on the application is what’s going to make that idea come to life in the eyes of the selection committee.

CTE Grant Success Story: The Manufacturing 4.0 Co-op

The Manufacturing 4.0 Co-op is a fascinating case study in the power of leveraging all 8 of these keys.

Four rural school districts wanted to implement Industry 4.0 courses, but because of their size and budget, none could accomplish this on their own. So the four school districts partnered with each other. They also brought in four industrial employer partners to support the co-op. Last, they created credit pathways with their local technical college. They even built in industry-recognized certifications that are valued by those employers and are used in the technical college as well.

With the combined support of the schools, industry partners and a technical education grant, the Manufacturing 4.0 Co-op (as they’re now called), were able to purchase state-of-the-art curriculum and Industry 4.0 hands-on training equipment for their high schools. Each year, the program will reach more and more students, creating a pipeline of advanced manufacturing talent for the local workforce.

Want Guidance Writing a Winning CTE Grant?

Are you ready to write a winning CTE grant proposal? We hope so! And our team here at LAB Midwest is here to provide assistance wherever we can. We can help with…

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