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Biden Admin Announces $72M in Funding for Workforce Training in Clean Energy Advanced Manufacturing

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Amid President Biden’s Investing in America campaign, a cross-country tour in which the commander-in-chief is touting his administration’s extensive support for reshoring American manufacturing, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $72 million in funding to bolster workforce development for advanced manufacturing in clean energy sectors. The funding will go to major research institutions, community colleges and trade schools, and labor union programs around the country.

The money comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed in 2021. $18.7 million has already been disbursed to five competitively-selected universities — each in a different US region — which will serve as Centers of Excellence (COEs) for the DOE’s Industrial Assessment Centers (IAC) program. IACs were originally founded by the Department of Commerce (DOC) in 1976, then moved to the DOE, where they’re now administered by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The purpose of the IACs is to provide assessments to small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) that can help them increase energy efficiency, as well as reduce general waste and enhance productivity. According to the DOE, the IAC identifies well over $100,000 in potential yearly savings for every manufacturing operation it assesses. The purpose of the COEs will be to serve as regional hubs for the rest of the IACs, which currently exist at 37 universities in 28 different US states.

The regions are: Great Plains, which will be served by a COE at Oklahoma State University; Southeastern, with a COE at Georgia Tech University; Mid-Atlantic, for which Lehigh University will head up the COE hub; Gulf Coast, represented by a Texas A&M COE; and Western, with its COE to be located at San Francisco State University. Each of the headquartering universities will also be supported in its COE activities by multiple other universities local to the respective region.

Meanwhile, the remaining $54 million is still up for grabs: that money will not only create new IACs, but will also go towards new Building Training and Assessment Centers (BTACs). The concept of BTACs has been around at least since the Obama administration, with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law finally making that concept a reality: essentially, the purpose of the BTACs will be to serve the same role in the construction sector that the IACs serve for manufacturers.

The key dates for the funds that are still in play are as follows: first, on April 18, 2023, at 2:00 PM eastern, there will be a webinar on the funding opportunity. Then, interested applicants will have to submit concept papers by May 25, 2023 (5 PM eastern), and will have to get their full applications in by July 31, 2023 (5 PM eastern).

In a recent 3DPrint.comPRO article, I pointed out the unique opportunity in the area of workforce training, for investors and 3D printing companies alike to go big on a comprehensive, long-term advanced manufacturing strategy. The grants and new funding opportunities announced here add substantial validity to that line of argument. Workforce training for US manufacturing is not only being financially enhanced by the Biden administration: it is being rejuvenated, systematized, and set up to make maximum impact on the real economy.

Even more so than the specific number of funds allotted, the creation of regional hubs is the critical detail, here. 3D printing stakeholders don’t even necessarily have to be “in” on the workforce training programs directly, but they should certainly focus on establishing or otherwise solidifying direct links to their respective regional hubs.

Finally, the establishment of BTACs is just the latest indicator that additive construction (AC) is for real. In the AC segment’s attempts to continue proving its technological readiness over the next few years, the role of a government-supported program for broad standardization will be absolutely indispensable.

Images courtesy of DOE

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