The Factory produces coLearning classes to meet demand for talent


CoLearning is a program of professional development courses at The Factory co-working space in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo via

The Factory might want to add the word University to its name.

Classes focused on technology, design and business are coming to the startup hub at 38 W. Fulton St., said Aaron Schaap, founder of Elevator Up and a main voice for the endeavors of The Factory. The new training system, titled coLearning, will begin offering six-week courses aimed at creating and connecting community talent, he said, with a maximum of 20 students per class.

“Intro to Ruby,” the first class of the coLearning program, will take place from 6-8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, beginning March 19, in The Factory space. Ruby, a popular programming language for open source technology (Twitter, apps, etc.) will be taught by Dan Morrison, founder of Collective Idea, a software development company that uses Ruby. Morrison, a long-time friend of Schaap’s, has done Ruby training at both Disney and Pixar, Schaap said.

Ruby skills are a much sought after commodity in West Michigan, Schaap said.

The coLearning team polled local web and tech companies on their hiring needs and found that West Michigan is only filling about 30 percent to 40 percent of its need for Ruby workers.

“For us at Elevator Up, we need two to three more, just for people who can read Ruby,” he said. “We’ve got people in Elevator Up trying to hire new Ruby developers … we can’t hire them fast enough. It’s the same for all the other companies in the area.”

The Ruby class will be followed by a course called “Modern Front End,” starting on April 30 and taught by Janson Hartilep of Elevator Up. Other classes will be formed based on feedback of what’s needed in the local tech community, Schaap said. The courses are designed to specifically give West Michigan employees hands-on experience with systems that are in demand.

Although these kinds of courses would normally be taught for $3,000 at local universities, Schaap said, coLearning is offering a special discount for admission. It will be either $1,000 or $100 per course, depending on the student.

People new to the experience or looking to be hired will be able to register for $100 and be put on a fast track in the job market. Students who already are employed and looking to add skills can register for $1,000.

“If you’re not interested in getting a new job, it’s $1,000. If you’re open to having a new job, then we’re going to set you on the track to get that training and then we’ll set up interviews with hiring partners for you to have the opportunity to get that new job,” Schaap said. “We’re going to be heavily promoting that, so your employer might not be too happy if they hear you’re looking for a new job. And a lot of companies will be paying their employees to come through this as well.”

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is helping by subsidizing part of the cost, Schaap said, making it possible to offer the low tuition for students and pay quality teachers the market rate. Funding from the state totaled $20,000 per class, he said.

“(MEDC’s) got a program called ‘Shifting Code,’ and they’ve identified that as a state, there’s not enough technical talent and it’s causing problems with companies leaving Michigan to get that talent. Companies are having a hard time growing because they can’t get that talent… We can’t take as much work because we can’t hire fast enough,” he said.

“We actually have it set up so you can get a job at these companies that are looking to hire. We’ll have 20 people going through the Ruby class and we already have hiring partners working with the students throughout the six-week course, and are going to be giving them 40-hour internships right after the course, with hopes to hire them if they’re good enough.”

Training systems like coLearning not only fill a need for local talent, Schaap said, but also help companies collaborate in an effort to train and hire the talent that stays in West Michigan.

Overall, everybody wins, Schaap said.

“Companies are helping by being clear on the talent they need, hiring people out of the program and doing studio tours,” he said. “We’re more interested in making people better at what they do. That’s more valuable to all of us.”

To learn more about classes and apply, visit:

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