Two multimillion-dollar federal grants will expand coding classes and on-the-job training in the Seattle area to some students for free, but there’s no guarantee of employment at the end.
This fall, two Seattle-area programs will use an old-school style of training to solve a new-economy problem: preparing a bigger swath of the local workforce with the technology skills companies are looking for.
Both Seattle Central College and the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA), a trade association, will use on-the-job training, via apprenticeships, to teach coding and other tech skills. The programs are being billed as a way to get more local residents to join Seattle’s booming, lucrative tech industry — without having to earn a computer-science degree.
Apprenticeships have traditionally been used in the construction industry and other skilled trades. Industry experts say a short, intensive burst of training can be enough to lead to a midlevel job in tech.
A group of panelists from the tech industry will talk about career opportunities for women and minorities July 21 at the Rainier Arts Center, 3515 S. Alaska St. The event starts at 5:30 p.m., and registration is required. Go to www.worksourceIT.eventbrite.com to register.
The programs at Seattle Central and WTIA are supported by federal labor grants, and students who are accepted will be able to take classes for free. But there are also significant differences between the two.
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Seattle Central’s apprenticeship program, which received a $3.8 million, four-year federal grant, will be run in partnership with a St. Louis nonprofit, LaunchCode. LaunchCode’s apprenticeship program is approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.
These apprenticeships generally last about 90 days, although they can go as long as six months, and pay at least $15 an hour. LaunchCode says 90 percent of businesses that bring on one of their apprentices offer them a full-time job.
But the apprenticeships don’t meet the more-rigorous state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) standards. In fact, the department wouldn’t label them as apprenticeships.
LaunchPad has painted “a really rosy picture, but the details aren’t there,” said Jody Robbins, L&I apprenticeship program manager.
He said LaunchCode asks for only minimum qualifications of its applicants, and doesn’t offer a progressively increasing scale of wages. LaunchCode has not made a formal request to be approved by the State Apprenticeship Council, and Robbins said his review of the program was not comprehensive.
A lack of state approval for the apprenticeship wasn’t a concern for the community college, said Andrea Samuels, interim dean of workforce education for Seattle Central. She described it as “common for programs that tend to operate across state lines” to get only the federal apprenticeship approval, and not seek approval in every state where they operate.
Seattle Central will grant college credit to students who successfully complete its program, which for most students will include classwork plus the apprenticeship. The school hopes students will use the program to gain skills that will launch their careers, then keep taking college courses to help them progress further.
Seattle Central’s program is aimed at students under 30 who are currently unemployed. Samuels said salaries for entry-level jobs are expected to start at around $50,000.
Like the Seattle Central program, the WTIA apprenticeship program will also be free to accepted students, and it, too, is supported by a federal grant — a $3.5 million, five-year grant, also from the federal Department of Labor. The focus is on training women and veterans, as well as minorities who are underrepresented in tech fields — African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos.
As with the Seattle Central program, students will first have to take a test to measure their skill level, and WTIA may tell some that they need to beef up their math skills at a community college before starting.
Students accepted into the program will typically spend about three months in training, and they’ll be guaranteed a one-year-long apprenticeship, a paid position during which they will learn on the job, said Jennifer Carlson, executive director of WTIA Workforce Institute.
Apprentices will earn at least $42,000 a year, plus benefits, with a 10 percent bump in salary midway through the apprenticeship, Carlson said.
WTIA’s yearlong apprenticeships will be used to increase the number of people trained in what Carlson calls “soft tech” or “quasi-tech” fields — midlevel jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree in computer science but do require strong, up-to-date technical skills.
Apprenticeships will be offered in project management, software development, web development, database administration and network security administration, and eight more apprenticeships are in development, she said.
Those jobs pay well — around $65,000 to $75,000 a year, depending on experience — but less than a software engineer with a computer science degree would make. (Software engineers in Seattle earn a median salary of $113,242.)
WTIA estimates there are about 7,500 unfilled tech jobs in the Seattle area. Of those, about 4,000 are what Carlson describes as midtier jobs — jobs that don’t require advanced training, such as a computer-science degree.
And the region’s colleges can’t train people fast enough to fill all those midtier jobs, she said.
Much of that work has also fallen to a growing industry of private trade schools, sometimes also called coding boot camps or code academies.
Coding trade schools generally charge about $20,000 for an 18- to 20-week course, and there are nearly a dozen of them in the Greater Seattle area, said Dave Parker, the CEO of Code Fellows, a 3-year-old coding academy with offices in Seattle and Portland.
Those who train people for the tech field say it may offer lucrative wages, but it’s not for everyone.
Potential students should first ask themselves whether tech is the right vocation for them. “Everyone is drawn to the salary and job openings, and that’s great, but if you don’t like the work …” Parker said.
A student who already has “done a little hacking at technology,” as he puts it, would need to work 40 to 50 hours a week in a coding class. Somebody with less experience would need to work harder.
Katie Bouwkamp, director of communications for Coding Dojo — a trade school with a Bellevue location — also underscored the importance of hard work to learn coding.
“Individuals who have a passion for coding and learning, along with the ability to hunker down and spend 60 to 80 hours a week learning how to code, are the ones who come out on top,” she said via email.