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Free Program Teaches Detroiters Skills Needed to Go After IT Jobs

Downtown Detroit tech training institute Grand Circus has successfully launched a free new apprenticeship program open to all Motor City residents. The Department of Labor Computer Programming Apprenticeship is a five-week, full-time Java bootcamp that aims to give participants the skills to claim one of Detroit’s many open IT jobs.

“The ideal candidate for the program is anybody committed to launching a career in tech who has the wherewithal to spend five weeks learning Java,” said Grand Circus CEO Damien Rocchi. “There are no pre-requisites.”

The program was developed with the help of the U.S. Department of Labor and the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC), a local workforce development agency; the DESC funded the program’s first cohort of 22 people, which is currently in the middle of classes. After the bootcamp, participants will be given the opportunity to interview for a paid apprenticeship at a local company.

Over the course of 10-12 months, the apprentices will work as developers and get real-world technical skills and experience. Upon completion of the apprenticeship, participants get their Journeyman’s Card credentials and along the way, they’ll get ongoing training and regular check-ins with Grand Circus.

“The classroom learning is very interactive, but the real learning starts once they finish and they’re hired on as an apprentice,” Rocchi said. “We’ll meet with them once per quarter and if they aren’t tracking, we’ll do an intervention to try and fix it.”

Grand Circus offers its paying customers a variety of six-week training bootcamps teaching front-end programming, Java, and other skills. The price to attend those bootcamps is $7,500. The training institute was inspired to offer the new apprenticeship program free of charge by President Obama’s TechHire initiative, Rocchi explained, which calls for community colleges, universities, and tech training entities like Grand Circus to dedicate resources toward teaching adults the skills needed to tap into the Web-based job market. TechHire seeks to address a nationwide talent shortage—a need that is especially keen in Detroit as large corporate employers like Quicken Loans relocate to the city to be part of ongoing revitalization efforts. (Grand Circus is a member of the Quicken Loans “family of companies.”)

According to Grand Circus, over the past five years, IT job postings grew by 55 percent in metro Detroit. In the city of Detroit alone, software developers were the second highest in-demand job between April and June 2015. But there is a talent gap—for every 10 IT jobs in Detroit, there are only eight qualified workers.

Rocchi said the DESC led recruitment efforts for the first cohort of the apprenticeship program; 48 percent of participants are women and six percent have only a high school diploma. The application process is designed to weed out people who might lack the gumption to see the program through to the end. “It’s not easy—you can’t just show up and get in,” he said. “You need commitment and tenacity, so we assess for that.”

Rocchi said Grand Circus is trying to evolve to address the needs of Detroiters, and improved access to its training regimen is ultimately what it hopes comes out of the apprenticeship program.

“It’s been great so far—the students have been really engaged,” Rocchi added. “There’s so much interest in this program from both employers and students.”

Those interested in learning more about the apprenticeship program should connect with Grand Circus through its website.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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