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Op-Ed: SBA MaTCH competition ignites workforce development, problem solving

The U.S. Small Business Administration kicked off a new Makerspace Training, Collaboration and Hiring (MaTCH) pilot competition to help employers find workers with the skills they need.

As the United States reaches historic levels of job creation due to the pro-growth economic policies set by President Trump and his administration, the American job market has become much tighter and employers are looking for creative solutions.

A recent NFIB survey found 24% of small business owners said finding qualified workers is their single most important problem. In fact, 86% of those respondents trying to hire workers had few or no qualified applicants. The SBA’s MaTCH competition will help solve that problem. Makerspaces that submit the most compelling proposals will win up to $200,000 each.

Since the SBA announced this initiative, I’ve gotten several quizzical looks. “What is a makerspace?” is the most common question. My answer? They are today’s birthplace of innovation, ingenuity and workforce ignition. These environments help build STEAM for learning too — science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.

Let me explain.

Makerspaces are shared workspaces and mutual learning environments. These collaborative areas let people solve problems by sharing ideas and experiences, allowing deeper connections between disciplines to be forged. A byproduct of this unique environment is the powerful motivation and engagement of participants, who develop new skills through addressing a problem head-on and hands-on.

Makerspaces possess the resources and ingenuity necessary to solve the problem entrepreneurs and the small business community face. The Atlantic Region is privileged to house many thriving makerspaces in Buffalo, the Hudson and Mid-Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island, the Garden State, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

What’s more, our public education system has also adopted this concept through activities such as Lego League and robotics clubs that develop a new crop of thinkers, tinkers and creators.

As SBA Acting Administrator Chris Pilkerton has so aptly pointed out, makerspaces are also uniquely positioned to boost workforce development by fostering vocational education, apprenticeships and entrepreneurship.

Powerful things happen when participants can conceptualize something together, solve a problem and not only build it but also explain what they’ve built and how it relates to their industry or community.

Our agency’s MaTCH pilot competition is structured in a way that challenges individual organizations or teams to utilize existing makerspaces to create or expand programs that provide the job-specific and soft skills training needed by today’s workforce.

The SBA will award up to $1 million in total prizes to fund selected winning proposals. The overall goal is to place participants immediately with local employers that need skilled workers.

To enter, makerspaces must submit a business plan that details their team’s 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. Visit www.sba.gov/match for rules, requirements and the entry form. The submission period ends on July 8 with winners announced on Aug. 6. Come be a part of it.

Author Steve Bulger is the Regional Administrator for the SBA’s Atlantic Regional Administrator, serving the States of New York, New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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