New program helps SLO County workers get into tech
SLO Partners' apprenticeship program last year trained and placed 28 San Luis Obispo County workers in tech jobs around the county — many of whom had little to no experience in the industry.
This year, the Ticket Into Tech group is ramping up its efforts with a bigger goal: head-of-household tech jobs.
"We want 1,000 additional head-of-household tech jobs before Diablo Canyon closes," said SLO Partners business liaison Dan Weeks.
To do that, the program is adding a software engineering pathway, complete with coding boot camps meant to take even the most beginner of coders to worker-ready in less than a year.
According to Weeks, software engineers are some of the most in-demand workers in San Luis Obispo County, offer an opportunity for local workers to secure ever-elusive head-of-household jobs and — most importantly — don't necessarily require a four-year degree, as many think.
"Our first generation, they are about $40,000-a-year jobs, which is great," Weeks said. "This one, the average (coding bootcamp) grad is $80,000."
Some could expect to earn even more.
"If you look at the wages for software developers, software engineers in SLO County, it's about $105,000," Weeks said. "You do not have to have a four-year degree for that."
The program, which is open to anyone interested in working in the tech industry regardless of experience level, will take up to 150 local residents and train them in one of three fields (with specializations available): IT, software test technicians and software engineering.
The applicants can range in experience levels, Weeks said, from recent high school and college grads to mothers hoping to re-enter the workforce. They also are looking for people who haven't previously considered jobs in tech, like those in liberal arts fields.
Beginner applicants — those who have no knowledge or experience in coding — will have the option to undergo a special eight-week coding pre-bootcamp with CodeSLO mentor Matt West.
West founded CodeSLO in 2014 after realizing late in his college career that he was interested in programming, and needed to essentially teach himself some of the basics. Since its creation, the community school has taught more than 650 residents.
Not all potential apprentices will be required to take the coding introduction: Those interested in the IT pathway instead do a free four-week pre-apprenticeship course that teaches introductory computer skills.
At the end of the pre-apprenticeship/introductory course phase, all pathways will narrow their cohorts to between 15 and 20 people. From there, they'll go on to the next level of training, with IT and software testing techs eventually getting their certifications and software engineering apprentices moving on to the coding boot camp.
Classes for those in the IT and software testing techs pathways are free, with the chance for students to get $500 if they pass their certifications.
Once they've completed their training, successful applicants in all of the tracks are matched with local tech companies like Mindbody, Clever Ducks and CIO Solutions to begin one year of paid, on-the-job training.
Madeline Gorge, one of the IT pathway apprentices in 2017, is currently working as a service technician at CIO Solutions (previously TekTegrity) thanks to the program.
Before she applied, Gorge was a computer science student at Cuesta College, struggling to find ways to support herself.
"It's not too good to be true," Gorge said. "I remember where I was a year ago: I was going to school full-time, working minimum-wage jobs, also full-time, and just scouring the internet for any kind of tech job, and they just were non-existent. But now, it's just great. I feel like I'm exactly where I want to be."
Beside the CodeSLO pre-coding bootcamp, this year's program will also partner with the Fullstack Academy for its software engineering training.
FullStack is the top-ranked coding bootcamp in the country, according to a SLO Partners news release, with bootcamps in New York City and Chicago. Its graduates have gone on to work at major tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook.
The San Luis Obispo bootcamp will be the first time the company has expanded to the West Coast, Weeks said.
"The reason is apprenticeship," he said. "They really want a model that is on the West Coast, and they realized what we did was special, and they said, 'If you can do that for technician-level positions, you can also do it for engineer-level positions.'"
The academy track is a little different from Ticket Into Tech's previous free iteration: Students on this pathway must pay $17,610 for a 17-week course through next year. For comparison, the average cost of attending Cal Poly for one year as an undergraduate student is $28,143.
To help pay for the training, SLO Partners is offering two full, and two half-tuition scholarships to recent graduates of San Luis Obispo County high schools. It will also offer one full and two half-tuition scholarships to women. Loans will also be available to help pay tuition.
How to apply
SLO Partners will host two information sessions at the SLO Hothouse (872 Higuera St.) for those interested in the program on June 5 and 6. Both begin at 6:30 p.m. and will feature representatives of the program to answer questions about the application and apprenticeship process.
To apply, go to slopartners.org/ticket-into-tech/. Applicants are also required to take a free, 10-hour online course and complete an entrance exam.