Grand Circus seeking partners


Grand Circus is gearing up to plug West Michigan into the digital age. Since launching its apprenticeship program, the Academy, in Detroit, the tech-training institute is now in talks with Grand Rapids employers to try out the program’s graduates at no risk.

The Academy allows employers to take on graduates of Grand Circus’s entry-level school for a three-to-six-month period. The school launched a pilot program in August 2017 and has since had two participating companies and eight students, with three company and 10 student partnerships pending.

“What we found is a lot of times employers need people really fast, but they can be hesitant to take on people from a boot camp,” said Celena Mancina, Grand Circus director of operations and partnerships. “This is a really low-risk contract … All they do is pick the person they like, get them on-site, and if they like them, they keep them.”

Grand Circus’ coding boot camp runs every quarter and lasts 12 weeks. The curriculum focuses on coding languages widely used in the current market like Java, C#, .NET and JavaScript.

According to Grand Circus, 1,000 grads have gone through the boot camp, and 86.5 percent were hired by tech companies within 120 days.

“We have alumni in Grand Rapids that are ready to work,” Mancina said. “We’re ready to have conversations with employers who are interested in hiring within the Academy.”

Grand Circus opened its Grand Rapids campus on 40 Pearl St. NW a year-and-a-half ago, and Mancina said the campus already has had several graduates move on to the workforce. But Grand Circus is now in discussion with local businesses to enroll them in the Academy.

Tech companies like OST and SalesPad, both based in Grand Rapids, are considering getting on board, but no formal plans have been made yet.

Mike Lomonaco, OST director of marketing and communications, said his company has been coordinating with Grand Circus even before the school came to West Michigan.

“The idea that they (Grand Circus) are working across communities to bring opportunities for folks through training of skills and access for folks in the business community, at a pretty high rate, is awesome,” he said.

Lomonaco said the skills Grand Circus provides are becoming more critical as businesses become more digitally focused, not just internally but also in the products they provide.

“Whether folks are coming in at junior levels or senior levels, that’s what it’s going to take to develop an advanced ecosystem,” he said.

Workplace diversity also is valuable to OST, and the company believes the Academy can help drive it. According to Grand Circus, 41 percent of its students are women and 30 percent are classified underrepresented minorities in the tech industry.

“The elephant in the room is the lack of diversity, both gender and race, in our industry,” Lomonaco said. “It’s not a need like diversity for diversity’s sake. It’s a need where you’ve got to have diversity of experience and thought and background. That’s where true creativity comes from.”

He added OST also works with its own clients to help fill their workforce needs, and partnering with the Academy also could lead to opportunities where OST recommends Grand Circus graduates to customers.

“Given our reach across the state, we’re able to help our customers in that way, too,” Lomonaco said.

The Academy also will be an item of discussion at the upcoming employer seminar hosted by West Michigan Tech Talent on June 21 at Start Garden.

WMTT is a group of local businesses and educators focused on developing and growing the area’s IT pool and is a West Michigan Works! initiative.

Joe Thiry, IT business solutions representative for WMW, said the goal of the employer seminar is to enable organizations to share their own practices on developing tech talent.

“It’s kind of a forum so people can glean some of the ways other people do it and see if they can coordinate it,” Thiry said.

The seminar is geared toward IT hiring managers, HR professionals, training development professionals or IT leaders interested in best practices for finding, developing and retaining talent in their organizations.

Thiry added WMTT has partnered with member organizations in the past on other initiatives to grow West Michigan’s IT presence, like bringing local IT professionals into schools and having them lead students through the coding experience.

The Grand Circus Academy will be one of the multiple avenues discussed at the seminar, but Mancina said she hopes the event will be a catalyst to get more West Michigan businesses on board with the Academy.

“What we’re trying to do is really show the value proposition for employers,” she said. “We’re training anywhere from 10 to 12 developers per quarter.”

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