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WMCAT offers tech career pathway program for adults

two people sitting with computers
West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology
WMCAT offers free tech classes

The West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology will train adults in cybersecurity and governance, risk and compliance (GRC). The courses are free, and students will receive a stipend while training.

The West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) is launching a tuition-free Adult Career Training Program to provide Kent County adults experiencing under and unemployment the opportunity for thriving-wage careers in cybersecurity and GRC (governance, risk, and compliance).

In its first year, WMCAT’s seven-month cybersecurity and GRC pathway will train 12 Kent County adults. WMCAT will partner with national provider GRC (Governance, Risk and Compliance) for Intelligent Ecosystems, or GRCIE (pronounced “Gracie”), for virtual student instruction in a virtual reality environment.

WMCAT has a 17-year history of supporting adults on the path to sustained economic security through career training, but historically the group has focused on the health care industry. With a newly-emerging digital landscape, President and CEO, Jamon Alexander, told WGVU, he wants to ensure community members are ready for the job market.

"“The future is tech-based and we want to ensure that if West Michigan continues to grow that everyone has an opportunity to grow along with it," Alexander said.

The tech pathway program comes at a time when employer demand for trained specialists in cybersecurity and GRC is high and rising. Economic development organization, The Right Place, released plans this month to transform Grand Rapids into a major Midwest tech hub over the next decade.

According to West Michigan Works!, there is an 18% expected increase in information security analyst positions in the region through 2023. Mid-career professionals in these positions earn a median hourly rate of $49.33, or approximately $102,600 in annual salary. Alexander said positions in this field can have a significant financial impact on adults and families who remain economically fragile despite working – often referred to as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). In Grand Rapids, 46% of households live below the ALICE threshold; and in Kentwood and Wyoming, 45%. Economic disparity is more pronounced when looking at the racial wealth gap. In the City of Grand Rapids, the median household income is $42,000, but it is only $24,000 for Black residents and $31,000 for Hispanic residents.

The program is tuition-free and includes a stipend, access to an emergency fund, and on-site supports so that adults have stability as they create a path to economic security for the future. Alexander said he hopes that removes barriers for communities who are often shut out of the industry.

"I'll say specifically, we are encouraging members of the BIPOC community to apply. Black indigenous people of color. Women. Folks that have historically not been represented in a tech space," he said.

WMCAT is able to provide this new training pathway tuition-free thanks in part to recent multi-year funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is proud to provide support that will help to reduce the racial wealth gap in Grand Rapids through this training-with-stipend program, designed to impact families in our communities of color,” said Tracie Coffman, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, children are at the heart of everything we do, and we know that for children to thrive, their families have to have, not only access to good paying jobs, but also career pathways to be able to support them.”

Kent County adults interested in WMCAT’s tuition-free Cybersecurity + GRC pathway of the Adult Career Training Program can learn more and begin the three-step enrollment process at work.wmcat.org/enrollment. Classes begin in December with enrollment open now through Oct. 17, 2022.

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