A lot of US consultants claim they have access to “ISO grants” which can help companies cut their consulting and training bill. While this is true, the consultants often use their clients ignorance of the grants to either falsely bolster their reputations, or even make a few extra bucks on the side. They do this by making the incredibly false claim that you can only get the grant through them. It’s simply not true.

There are many, many grant programs out there that can be applied to ISO 9001, AS9100, ISO 13485 and the rest. In general, there are some commonalities:

  • They typically will only reimburse up to 50% of your consulting and training costs. Some reimburse more, however.
  • They will not reimburse any costs for certification; i.e., costs associated with the registrar or the final certification audit
  • Depending on the state, they may be restricted to only using in-state consulting firms; although this is not true in the majority of cases
  • Some states may require out-of-state consultants to register first
  • In all cases, you cannot begin implementation and consulting until the grant is awarded; as a result, grants will slow down the implementation process
  • Some grants have an annual window for applying; these are the worst type of grants, as they will delay the start of your implementation program dramatically.
  • Grants are usually administered at the county level; different counties may have different rules.
  • Large companies (500 employees or more) are typically excluded from grants — but not always
  • Grant recipients must prove that adding ISO 9001, AS9100, etc. will improve jobs, and prevent shutdowns or moving the company out of state.

WIA Incumbent Worker Training

The most common grant program nationwide is through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Under this Federal program, states receive WIA funds for the purposes of training state workforces and creating jobs. One aspect of WIA is “Incumbent Worker Training” (IWT). These are the best grants for ISO 9001 and related implementation programs, as the focus of IWT is to retain workers in the state where the program is administered, and a solid argument can be made that ISO 9001 can help retain workers. Oxebridge has successfully won over half a million dollars in grants to ISO 9001 and AS9100 clients in nearly 20 states.

These programs are targeted at SMEs (small to medium enterprises), and reimburse 50% or more of the associated consulting and training costs. They will not reimburse travel or expenses, nor any part of the registrar’s costs. Obtaining the grants is easier if a company is minority-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned, etc.

The lie that many consultants make is that WIA grants ca only be obtained through them. This is not true: any company can apply for the WIA IWT grant by simply filling out an application form, for free, typically available online. You need only search for the “Workforce Development” office in your county. (Note that it may have a different name than that, so contact your state workforce board.) The application process can be complex and daunting, but it’s free. Don’t believe consultants who claim there is an application fee, because they are just stealing your money, and preying on your ignorance.

A few caveats: because of the declining economy and tax cuts, WIA funds have been cut and states have far less to work with in recent years. Many states dropped their IWT programs, so they may not exist in your area.

Manufacturing Extension Partnerships

Most states have a Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP. Now I can’t say too much about the MEP because whenver I do, they threaten me with legal action. That should tell you something. But most states have a portion of WIA funds “set aside” for the MEP, and MEP representatives will tell you that you can only get the grants through them, and thus only use their consultants. That’s only half true. Only MEP can access the set-aside portion, but anyone can access the rest. So in short, you don’t need to go through MEP to get the grant.

MEP also just hires consultants, like me, and then adds a markup which it then submits to the grant. I’ve been approached a bajillion times by various MEP folks, asking me to join their group; I refuse, since they have nothing to offer me, and adding thousands of dollars to my fee only rips off state funds, in my opinion.

Going direct to a consultant cuts out the middleman, and can improve chances of grant award (since you are asking for less money to do the same thing.) However, in many areas there simply aren’t good consultants out of the MEP circle, so going with the MEP may be the best step. Also, if the general IWT funds are dried up, there may still be some left in the MEP set-aside pool; but normally, the opposite is true.

Just watch out: they are very aggressive sellers, sometimes promising things that can’t be quantified (“90% increase in qualificative introretrospective blurberjapper!”) and phoning you long after you’ve told them, “no thanks.”

Keep reading, while I go tell my lawyer to expect a call.

Universities, Colleges and the “Consortium Approach”

Many states, or counties, will have their grant programs administered through a university or local community college. In such cases, they may also be providing the consulting service, and disallow use of a third party like Oxebridge. This in itself has pros and cons. On the plus side, these typically get covered by grants easily, since the provider educational institution is known to the state. On the minus side, the educational institutions typically have a “packaged” approach that is not tailored for the various clients it receives, and assigns multiple homework assignments to the clients for the purposes of personalizing their systems. This arrangement also requires company personnel to attend the training at the educational institution, and not have it presented on-site at their facility.

Another common approach is the institution-led “consortium” approach. In this scenario, multiple companies collectively attend classroom sessions that give guidance on ISO 9001 implementation. Oxebridge cautions against these, as they require a very large investment of time, and often drag implementation time by a year or more. The results are often dubious: those coming out of consortium classes say the advice is generic, and much of the work of customizing the system is left to the student. Classroom discussions become chaotic, since a single consortium may include participants from three or four wildly different industries.

Best Approach

If you are lucky and an IWT grant is available in your area, the best solution is one that allows for the selection of any consultant, regardless of location. These will generally not run through the MEP or an educational institution, and give you the most flexibility on selection of consultant and approach.

When selecting a consultant, be sure they are familiar with the grant application process, and will help you — for free — to complete it. If they ask for money up front for an application fee, ask to see the application form and confirm it. In all likelihood, it doesn’t exist and the consultant is just trying to steal your money. Be sure the consultant can assist with the grant throughout the implementation contract, as this includes providing information along the way about hours of training provided, curriculum and more.

If you are not in a rush, have plenty of time and patience and available labor to throw at it, you can pursue a non-IWT grant that relies on using a university, community college or consortium. Just be ready to do a lot of heavy lifting.

And don’t be disappointed if the grants in your area are dried up. This is more and more the case, unfortunately.


About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.


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