Podcast Ep. 92: Changing Generational Poverty by Paying People to Learn Tech Skills

Apr 25, 2022

In this episode of The Forum Podcast Irma Olguin Jr. (Bitwise Industries) and Michelle Skoor (Bitwise Industries) explore how the tech industry could use paid apprenticeships to approach systemic inequities in the tech industry and curb generational poverty.

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The tech industry has a workforce shortage and a major problem with the lack of diversity within its ranks. If companies look for talent in new places, they will find many people from underserved communities to fill these roles. The challenge is that many of these people can’t access the education needed to enter the industry. So how do we upskill people who can’t afford traditional training programs?

The simple answer is: Pay them to learn. Using the budget for existing IT projects, companies can instead build apprenticeship programs or work with firms that leverage apprentices to build the software. This allows people, who would otherwise have no way to afford training, to acquire hands-on technical experience.

Tech, as one of the fastest-growing industries, has the ability to change the lives of some of the most vulnerable in the U.S. When the tech industry leverages apprenticeship programs, people who were trapped in poverty have access to high-wage, high-growth jobs.

Learning Outcomes
  • Understand how companies that use apprentices benefit the most from the arrangement
  • See how having a diverse workforce leads to innovation and is a competitive advantage
  • Learn that apprentices can build infrastructure for outdated IT platforms while escaping systemic poverty

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The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Speaker 1 (00:00):
The Forum on Workplace Inclusion’s 2022 podcast series is sponsored by best buy more diversity in tech means more ideas that can change the world. Learn more@bestbuy.com slash more of this.
Speaker 1 (00:16):
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Ben Rue (01:05):
Hello and thank you for tuning into the Forum on workplace inclusion podcast series brought to you by best buy I’m Ben Rue program manager here at the Forum. We’re really looking forward to today’s podcast, Changing Generational Poverty by Paying People To Learn Tech Skills with Irma Olguin Jr. And Michelle Skoor of Bitwise industries, recent winners of the Forum on workplace inclusion winds of change diversity award for an organization. The tech industry has a workforce shortage and a major problem with lack of diversity within its ranks. If companies look for talent in new places, they will find many people from underserved communities to fill these roles. The challenge is that many of these people can’t access the education needed to enter the industry. So how do we upscale people who can’t afford traditional training programs? The simple answer is pay them to learn using the budget for existing it programs.
Ben Rue (01:56):
Companies can instead build apprenticeship programs or work with firms that leverage apprentices to build the software. This allows people who would otherwise have no way to afford training, to acquire hands on technical experience tech, as one of the fastest growing industries has the ability to change the lives of so of some of the most vulnerable in the us. When the tech industry leverages apprenticeship programs, people who were trapped in poverty have access to high wage, high growth jobs. This podcast will help you understand how companies that use apprentices benefit the most from the arrangement. See how having a diverse workforce leads to innovation and is a competitive advantage and learn that apprentices can build infrastructure from outdated IT platforms while escaping systemic poverty
Ben Rue (02:52):
In 2013, Irma Olguin Jr. Decided to build a company focused on creating a diverse tech industry in Fresno, California, and leveraging a bottom up approach as the economic driver to reinvigorate the city in 2019 Bitwise industry secured one of the largest, A rounds of funding for a female Latin X led company, pairing this success with the dogged sense that what she created in central valley doesn’t need to be an accident. Bitwise industries now operates with the goal of building tech economies in underestimated cities across the United States, as CEO and co-founder Irma oversees Bitwise ventures, which houses, the company’s portfolio companies, as well as the screening and interviewing of all employee candidates and apprentices for bitwise industries. Her goal is to ensure bitwise remains fateful to its mission of strengthening the tech industry and cities across the country and turning it into a driver for a real economic progress for all
Ben Rue (03:59):
Michelle Skoor leads, Bitwise industries, efforts to train historically excluded people from underestimated places, the skills they need to get a job in technology in this way. Michelle is helping to not only change lives, but change the face of the local workforce as chief workforce officer Michelle and their team help graduates find high wage tech jobs in their own cities graduates from Bitwise workforce training often get hired by Bitwise technology consulting and get hands on experience delivering excellent software and business solutions. Previously, Michelle directed the diverse talent program at Bitwise partnering with tech and enterprise organizations to engage diverse cost efficient tech talent, using a unique and proven apprenticeship model before becoming Bitwise’s chief workforce officer Michelle was product officer for onward and pod up two bitwise initiatives launched to provide support and resources to individuals and families during the COVID 19 pandemic. Now I’d like to hand things over to Irma and Michelle.
Irma Olguin Jr. (05:12):
Well, Michelle, I think maybe the first thing to do to set the table for this conversation probably is to take a couple of minutes and talk about why bitwise was created, what we do, what the components are, because it’s a pretty heavy lift. I think for folks who aren’t familiar with, who we are and why we do the things that we do. So maybe just a few minutes in level setting that, do you wanna take the microphone or shall I? Okay. I got it. I will take this away. So for those of you tuning in Bitwise was started in 2013 here in Fresno, California, where happened to be standing at the moment. And the idea when we started bitwise was to help to fix our city, right? So I don’t know how many folks are familiar with the central valley in the middle of California, but it is a challenged place.
Irma Olguin Jr. (06:02):
Four, the 10 poorest zip codes are in our county. It is a system that sort of was extractive in terms of it was built on agriculture as an industry. And so you’ve gotta very few number of people who own that land and benefit from the land and the industry there. And then a great large number of people who work that land and are the labor and the manufacturers to help be the, the bread basket of the world. And so what that’s created over the a hundred years or more that these cities have been in existence is very little upward mobility for a great number of people. And so when Jake and I, Jake Sober my co-founder and co-CEO, when we were both asking ourselves where the highest and best version of our lives would be lived out, we both wanted to come back home, but we were also sort of stuck in thinking about the things that our hometown didn’t do and why we both felt the need to leave, earn our early degrees and, you know, sort of career and education instead of wanting to do and make that effort in our hometown.
Irma Olguin Jr. (07:07):
And so when we shared sort of our stories, it was really clear it that there were a lot of young folks from the central valley who were living out that same story, believing that they had to leave if they wanted to obtain or attain the highest and best version of their existence. And so we asked ourselves, well, what do we need to do about that? We both landed in the technology industry and really in many ways by accident. So if you want to fix that about your hometown, where folks don’t ne don’t have to sort of accidentally land in the highest and best version of their lives, what do you actually need to action on, right? What are the, what are the pieces and the components that you can focus on in order to really sort of turn the ship around. And so adding that upward mobility and for us, that tool became the technology industry was became a focus for us.
Irma Olguin Jr. (07:57):
And after sort of plotting it out for almost a year about what that could possibly look like, we landed on the three things at the very beginning, that existed on day one and they exist today. They are the main components of what Bitwise is and does. And so just very briefly, the first of those is what we call workforce training. Michelle, you’re gonna be super familiar with that <laugh> which is, which is very specifically our answer to technology education in a way that doesn’t require a city, especially an underestimated or non-primary market city to export all of their best and brightest to other towns to get their education in universities that have sort of brand names. Right. But in, so instead of doing that, how do you design technology education for folks who love their hometown, who have families here who wanna stay here and skill those underestimated people into high growth, high wages, jobs.
Irma Olguin Jr. (08:49):
So workforce training, that’s our first component. Second component is enterprise technology consulting. This is the proof that you can make beneficial use of underestimated talent in underestimated places and skill those folks into high growth highways, jobs that can deliver technology and it solutions to clients around the world. And then the third piece is sort of the, the community piece, which is very specifically like how do you house those two pieces and how do you create an environment and a community that makes folks feel like they don’t have to leave, but instead they can in fact, spend their time in their professional lives, in their hometown. So that becomes this sort of community piece bright, colorful buildings that sort of meet the aspirations of technologists and, and entrepreneurs. Those are the three pieces, right. Which when you describe it in the way that I just did, it’s like, wow, that’s like, that’s a lot of stuff.
Irma Olguin Jr. (09:43):
But when you think about the, why you do each of those things and why you put effort into sort of lifting from all sides, it makes a lot more sense. And so that’s the bulk of this conversation is what does that really look like? Like boots on the ground work every day, human beings, what does this work really look like in the world? So one of the things that feels important, Michelle to talk about are the barriers yeah. That keep people from accessing those high growth highways jobs. Do you wanna sort of touch on that?
Michelle Skoor (10:17):
Sure. Yeah. Thanks Irma. And thanks, Ben for the earlier intro yeah, I think you really talked about the model that’s addressing it, but when you begin to dig into what is the reason that people haven’t had that access before that have needed to move to other places that haven’t had access to even the educational or the training systems that would allow them entry into these high wage growth high wage and high growth jobs, what does that look like? And, and what is the very specific focus that we serve? And I think there’s a couple things to think about, right? This is a billion dollar problem that tech companies are facing in terms of diversifying a workforce. And yet the system set up to do that very thing have many barriers at all of the points of entry. And so when we think about we trace it all the way back and, you know, align it to the Bitwise model.
Michelle Skoor (11:21):
When you think about training in general, what is that skilling? What is that new skilling? What does that access to upskilling look like? We’re talking about things like transportation to get to those things ha childcare such that you have priorities in your day. Whether you have dependent both younger or older dependents living in multi-generational family, that you need a very specific kind of schedule that allows for that to be possible in order to access those opportunities. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> we work with with veterans, we work with folks who have been previously incarcerated for whom there have not been pathways built, and in fact, systems are built to exclude those folks from any one of the training programs. And so you immediately are hit with a tech ecosystem that wants to be diverse, but with absolutely no levers in place in order to be able to do that very thing.
Michelle Skoor (12:21):
And so a lot of those efforts have been ineffective honestly in, in getting to truly the work that I think people want to do. Also also, you don’t have the diverse voices at the table helping build the technology solutions, helping build the products that oftentimes are aimed at serving the communities that we talk about. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. So I think important to, to say that we are looking at what those barriers are, whether those are cost for the program, like I said, transportation also, what are specific barriers for the communities that we’re serving in Fresno, in Toledo, in Buffalo, and understanding at a true, what I think of as very like hyper local community base, what are you doing to understand the specific needs of those communities in those cities, in order to help them begin on the pathway to training, and then eventually those high wage, high growth jobs.
Irma Olguin Jr. (13:25):
And I think you, you, you said it right, a billion dollars has been spent on trying to diversify the technology industry by what we would refer to as big tech mm-hmm, <affirmative> almost entirely ineffective or ineffective, excuse me. And then here’s bitwise doing the work. And I think we would both say that a lot of it has to do with not there’s this mystery, right. That we continue to hold onto in the technology industry where it’s like, oh, if you weren’t good at math in the fifth grade, you’re probably not gonna be in the, a technologist or a programmer. It’s like, well, that’s actually not at all true or relevant <laugh> right. But we keep holding that up. And I think even big tech in many ways continues to perpetuate those myths that, oh, you weren’t good at math and science before you were old enough to even know what you were gonna be good at. Like, okay, these careers are off the table for you. And that’s a tragedy. Cause mm-hmm, <affirmative> now you’ve lopped off access to some of the most untapped potential on the planet. Right. And I think you and I have our own stories, right. About those barriers to entry in the technology industry. And so maybe just for, for those who are tuning in, give up one extra beat on mm-hmm <affirmative>, you know, folks don’t know that you used to run a giant conference. <Laugh> maybe your background in how you landed in this
Michelle Skoor (14:40):
Yeah. To miss. Yeah. yeah. I mean, I think some of the story for me, you know, family also from the central valley similar the first person in my family still today to have had access and a pathway into higher education and then landing in a system that I didn’t understand, right. Like had no skills to understand what that was gonna look like. Ha had someone help me navigate what the system of higher ed was about to be successful. Made my way back into giving, working in higher ed, myself, supporting first generation college students, because that felt important for me to give back. And then also as I moved into working in the tech space, you know, sure you get hired, but you look around the room and there are not people for whom either share your story or look like you, or you see representation in leadership at any one of the management levels within an organization mm-hmm <affirmative>.
Michelle Skoor (15:40):
And so it also begins to create a story for you, for me identifying as non-binary and and trans in tech where do I see myself if I’m not seeing myself anywhere else in the four walls of that building or in that work. And so then went to an organization and did work that was amplifying the work that folks were doing. Sometimes it’s literally about the visibility. One of the pieces that resonates so much with me about the work we do in Bitwise in terms of the real estate and the place is because you walk into the physical place and you literally see people who look like you doing this work, and there is a mental component that makes you believe something different is possible than what you’ve been told mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so for me doing that work amplifying voices of women and non-binary folks in tech was really important to not only create that representation, but it also drives the work of technology forward as you, as you do that. And then of course taking all of that here to the work that I work with you on wise. Yeah. But also, you know, I can’t think of, I still there’s, I, I don’t see another non-binary non-binary person in a C-team in many of the organizations that we partner with. So still a long way to go.
Irma Olguin Jr. (17:06):
Yeah, for sure. For sure. And I think my story very different in terms of how we identify ourselves, but so similar in not seeing yourself represented, right. I can remember being a young kid and this is like, there’s so much, that’s subconscious to this too, that I think is really important to note like it, you notice when you are with people who share your story, who look like you, and, but you subconsciously notice when you’re not too. And that begins to build to your point, right. Build that story or your belief system about whether or not this place or this thing is for you. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> like I remember kind of coming up and people who look like me struggle and people who don’t look like me, don’t like, that was very, and I’m not even sure I ever put it into words, but that was my belief in understanding like, you know, coming up and the, that was my expectation of the world.
Irma Olguin Jr. (17:58):
Maybe more importantly. Right. So then when you get into tech and you’re like, oh, I see that this is full of people who don’t typically struggle or at least not in the way that we did mm-hmm <affirmative> and people like me who do struggle don’t land here. So that was, you know, wasn’t until I got my first job literal job, earning a paycheck in tech, when I realized like there was a whole new way to exist, that could be accessible to me. Only somebody had held up a sign, right. At some point and said like, walk this way, if you want one of these jobs. Right. which I think that’s what we, that’s what we attempt to do with our paid apprenticeships too. Right. Like, do you wanna, maybe we should touch on how that yeah. Helps address actual barriers.
Michelle Skoor (18:39):
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think that super important to say that the apprenticeship pipeline at Bitwise is a paid apprenticeship. And to say how intentional we are about that as you, as we are, accumulatively telling the story about what all the barriers are that you face, that I face that a lot of folks that have walked through BitWise’s doors have, and will soon to be face is one of those is also getting paid to do the skilling and do the learning to be able to access that job in our apprenticeships, being 40 hours a week, a commitment to understanding the skill and the craft and valuing that time of learning for individuals paying those folks, a living wage healthcare benefits, 401k ensuring that we were, that we are taking care of in my mind, whole individual. It is not someone coming in and sitting in front of a laptop to learn a skill.
Michelle Skoor (19:42):
There is a human entering, our building that has an ecosystem that they come from and are a part of that is important for us to take care of that addresses those barriers. And oftentimes the, to your point earlier, we also support changing the narrative about what’s possible for them given this experience. Right. So, you know, over, over the last eight years, the success we’ve had in apprentices coming in training and being placed into technical employment and, and the earnings, right. Folks come into us earning less than $20,000 a year earn on average $45,000 a year while being an apprentice and exiting on average $63,000 a year, we are significantly not that money addresses all of those barriers, but it begins to allow a different kind of thinking and living that I think allows our apprentices moving into those roles to shift some of the narratives of what they thought was possible into those into those career pathways.
Irma Olguin Jr. (20:53):
Yeah. I mean, I think tripling your income in a really short period of time is gonna solve a lot of problems that were problems on day one that you no longer have to live in fear of right on day 400 mm-hmm <affirmative>. And that’s like, you know, the lived experience that, that we share and that a lot of our apprentices share is that when you’re coming from a place of scarcity, you’re terrified something’s gonna go wrong, right. That you’re gonna blow a tire that somebody’s gonna need a Mo pool that, you know that you’re shoes are not appropriate for the job interview, right? Like you’re living in terror that you’re gonna have to come up with some last minute money mm-hmm <affirmative>. And when you’re making less than $21,000 a year, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, that’s really frightening. That’s that is not impossible. And that’s what we’re asking.
Irma Olguin Jr. (21:38):
A lot of people to do is E choose between investing in their futures, by learning a skill, and then practicing that skill and then going to get a job, or you can take care of your basic needs and make sure that you or your kid has the right pair of shoes for the interview. Right. That is the choice that we are actually asking people to make. And so by paying people to learn and paid apprenticeships, we can remove some of those choices that people are making mm-hmm <affirmative> between survival and investing in their futures. And that feels like, you know, is that expensive? Yes. But is it the right work to be doing? Definitely. Yes. And I think the other thing that I just wanna touch on really briefly, because this feels really important when it comes to apprenticeships is like some people may hear this and they think, oh, charity you’re, you know, you’re just, you’re just doing, you’re just doing charity.
Irma Olguin Jr. (22:29):
And I would argue that if you look at the full stack of the model and I know that we give a, a brief description of it a moment ago, but that tech consulting piece that I described is where a lot of these apprentices get their first bite at real world work. Right. And the way that we do that, there’s an analogy that we use a lot is that when you walk into a doctor’s office, you don’t ask for a brain surgeon every time you have a headache, right, there is brain surgery, but then there’s also just your run of the mill neurologist, right? <Laugh> and your primary care physician and the registered nurse and the medical assistant and the front office people. And there’s this whole stack of people at varying skills, varying sort of education levels, varying expertise mm-hmm <affirmative>, but they all contribute to solving the problem of that headache and software.
Irma Olguin Jr. (23:23):
And it solutions are no different. You don’t need a rocket scientist every time. There’s a line of code on the screen. You have to decide what the correct level of skill is. And so I really important to say that the technology economy, as a whole needs, a lot of people who are not just the brain surgeon version of the story, right? There’s a lot of other roles to fill there. So it’s not about charity. It’s about filling roles. It’s about putting people in jobs that exist today that are not being filled. And since those jobs need to be filled, can we not do it in a way that actually represents the population? And we think we can, we’ve actually proven that you can do that at scale. So I feel like that note is really important. Yeah. Nonprofits, government, entities, other organizations, they all have budgets for delivering on software and it solutions.
Irma Olguin Jr. (24:13):
We can leverage those bus budgets to help train up the next generation of technologists. So those real world projects, real world sort of problems really that they’re solving in real time, alongside more senior level people is how the technology world works. The technology economy functions this way. So we’re just doing that. By reaching out to sort of the, the, the least reached out to people mm-hmm <affirmative> in these communities to build problems that solve real world problems. And I that’s, maybe one of the things that we should maybe talk about too, is like, what’s an example of the work that gets done by these human beings. Do you wanna talk about that? Because you led the charge. I’m one of our biggest endeavors to date.
Michelle Skoor (24:56):
Yeah, absolutely happy to talk about onward. Onward us that started as onward California was the first state, but the idea really, I think you know, COVID pan 19 pandemic hit and we immediately knew given the work that we’ve done and populations that we’ve worked with and large part many of bit Wisers are a part of, is going to be hardest hit by the pandemic. We’re talking about folks in rural hourly wage earning retail, farm factory work that work immediately going away with shelter in place for folks who need those paychecks the most, right in terms of surviving and keeping your lights on and keeping a roof above your head in food security. And the idea with onward also recognizing in states that state systems we’re gonna be incredibly impacted in terms of the response that they were going to be able to leverage and provide quickly to the constituents in their states across the board.
Michelle Skoor (26:04):
And so thinking about how we would partner at that state level and bring together three sets of resources for folks who were impacted in the workplace due to COVID 19. And the first was what we knew, essential life resources, how do you connect people with food and shelter and emergency money and those things that make it able for you to get up and do the day. And the next is training and reskilling opportunities for people, for whom there are industries that were and jobs that were entirely decimated due to COVID 19 and, and shut down immediately. And then the third were employment opportunities focused on hourly wage earning work was not our hypothesis that people who were impacted, who would already find your next job on LinkedIn, you were gonna go find your next job on job boards that were already accessible.
Michelle Skoor (27:02):
But what about folks for whom an hourly wage earning were? Where would they turn? And could they do that all in one spot? And thus the idea of onward was stood up and because we had apprentices in our mix at the time, because we had a significant portfolio of work in the Salesforce space. And we knew that states and government tech systems utilized that as a platform, the idea was to stand that up quickly using Salesforce and our apprentices were at that table, building that technology describing how and when that product would be used. And we stood up on word California in 14 days from start to finish, I think took us as long to find the name as it did to stand up the solution we were providing, but directly aimed at the communities that we’re serving. And that is a perfect example of, of the, the product work, having that group of voices at the table and those apprentices having real world client work under the, their belt. And very specifically, we talk a lot about civic tech and the tech pathway into government work. Then having actually experienced that, that makes that makes the product I think, and the resource even better for the constituents and also the experience for apprentices as they look to enter the workforce, to have that kind of project in their portfolio is incredibly valuable.
Irma Olguin Jr. (28:37):
It was amazing actually the effort itself. It was, I look back on it now, because like when we started this, this was late March 20, 20, the world was so uncertain, there was a toilet paper shortage. Like there was just so much yeah. Going on and changing. And like what grounded us in that moment was like here we have a set of people who understand real world problems, our own apprentices apprentices. And we were asking ourselves how to be good actors during this really uncertain moment in our own communities. And the result of that was a platform that became an effective tool for something like 600,000 Americans built by people who know these problems, right? Like it, it’s hard to <laugh> even make up a story that’s better than that. Right. <laugh> right. But then it’s, didn’t just stop in California. Right. Then began the March across the country, onward CA became onward us.
Irma Olguin Jr. (29:35):
We had some governors on board. We’ve had a really good relationship with the state of Colorado and a, a, a number of other places across the country that help build those relationships. Like you said, in the tip civic tech space, that’s leading to new work for apprentices who wanna participate in their communities differently because they have space in their lives to do that. Right. And that like is the full circle of things. That’s the circle of life. Really for us in the technology industry is you start by creating or helping to, to craft your own success story and you take advantage of a tool and a mentor and a job and a line on the resume. And then if we do this right, you reach back to the next person and you help them do the very same thing. So being invested in the next success story, as much as you are invested in your own becomes the bit wise way. And we’ve seen that now to really wonderful effect. And maybe that’s, maybe that’s an important piece of talking through here, what you and I have seen because we started at the top of this podcast with a pretty complicated explanation <laugh> of what we do. And then couple of examples. And, and, but what does that result in, right? We talked about the lift and wages, but what else are we seeing and who else maybe even give diving into a couple of specific examples of human beings who’ve been affected or touched by this work?
Michelle Skoor (30:59):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, I love one of my favorite things to hear about is the first set of apprentices that came through Bitwise, right? Who, who was that first cohort? And I would love, you know, if you wanna share at least a story or two, and then I can pick up I think with Amelia who I have, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with on a few conversations recently. But I think starting from that first cohort, if you wanna share that out and then I can chime in with some more recent apprentice success into our tech consulting org,
Irma Olguin Jr. (31:35):
For sure. I mean, those, the <laugh> the original cohorts were like any, in any startup and any new thing that you do a mess, like we just didn’t know how to define it. We didn’t have terminology for what we were doing. They weren’t registered with the state or the department of labor. At the federal level, we were just saying literally to ourselves, we were saying, these are some really awesome hu human beings who are coming through our classes right. Nights and weekends classes. And they have everything it takes to make it in the technology industry, except for the very first line on the resume. Right. Cause everyone knows that is the hardest one to get. But once you have that first line that says, I am a Salesforce admin, I am a web developer, I am a project manager, the next job with the bigger lift and pay and the larger responsibility is so much easier to get.
Irma Olguin Jr. (32:29):
And so we asked ourselves, you know, what do we need to do to bridge that gap between training and that first line on the resume? And so that, that was, that was where our sort of apprenticeship system was birth. And that first set of eight folks are some of the best humans I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing in my actual existence. And one of the best parts of that, that story is so many of them have gone on now, you know, fast forward eight, nine years after they started their directors, their VPs they’ve started their own companies. They’re starting their own apprenticeship systems. And so when you get to see the full life cycle of that sort of pan out what we were just describing a moment ago, right? With once you meet your own success, you reach back and you grab someone else and you bring them with you.
Irma Olguin Jr. (33:17):
Every one of those eight people has lived that to its truest format. I love to think about Arturo and Vanessa Sabis, who are on our team today, who lead, who have led not just one cohort, but I think they’re on their fourth or fifth. Now they’ve also started their own side hustles, a few different ones. They are the, they are the leaders in our company that we rely on today. And I could, I could literally tell wonderful stories about each of those eight people. We just, we won’t have enough time for that in this program for sure. <Laugh>
Michelle Skoor (33:48):
<Laugh> yeah, I mean, but such a great segue to being able to talk about Miguel Hernandez, who is, was an apprentice with Arturo and Vanessa in online marketing Miguel having come to us also as a part of their reentry population, didn’t understand one, what a career in technology might look like, let alone, would that be possible started in our pre-app apprentice classes, I think eventually met Arturo and Vanessa had I think an inspiration about what could be possible and landed in their online marketing apprenticeship and was able to during that time L understand the way that Arturo and Vanessa work, what is online marketing? How do you understand what those skills are? Here’s how you apply everything. And I think one thing important to note when we’re talking about these stories too, these folks come to us with lived experience along the way.
Michelle Skoor (34:46):
Yeah. That is incredibly valuable to what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t code or they weren’t doing marketing, or they didn’t do project management before. That’s the skill we’re teaching here, but to value also where they came from and what skills and profession and, and you know, their leadership that they had before they arrived at bit Wise’s door. I think Miguel is the perfect example of that landing in his apprenticeship and sort of having a leadership role along the way and owning pieces of that work. My favorite connection to this story is that Miguel led the online marketing efforts of onward. When we first got heard <laugh> it was he and Arturo who said, this is how we should do it. This is the way we should frame this up. This is how we’re gonna know if we’re successful. And now that’s awesome. Miguel having conversations with him about being able to lead the next set of apprentices and reaching back once again.
Irma Olguin Jr. (35:41):
Oh, I love that. So first of all I don’t think I realized that he was part of the leadership of online marketing for onward. And I certainly didn’t know that he was thinking about leading his own cohort, which he absolutely should. Yeah. Or I hope he does, I should say no pressure Miguel, if you’re listening, but we really wanted to do that. <Laugh>
Michelle Skoor (36:00):
Right. That’s right. Yeah. And there’s so many agree with you. There’s so many stories of that across the board both in folks moving into leadership within Bitwise, in tech consulting, in the work we do, again, some of the apprentices who were working in Salesforce on onward now have a unique lens about the way that state technology and infrastructure and agencies work. And they are now helping to lead us through other technology solutions with government, with states and cities about the way that they’re thinking about the future of their technology solutions. So fo Jake Aguilar, who was a Salesforce developer apprentice is literally leading the way for some work we’re doing in in Tulsa, in Oklahoma. And so very excited to see the way that the apprentice success stories also are driving the work, but those voices and their experience are what’s driving the way that Bitwise does lead that work.
Irma Olguin Jr. (37:07):
And this is, this is a podcast for workplace inclusion. So maybe rapid fire, we just run through some of our most impressive statistics. And then we’ll end on an ask, I think do you wanna take some St some stats or shall I
Michelle Skoor (37:24):
I am happy to take some stats I’ll start with one near and dear to my heart, which is 60% of the folks that have come through our program are women or non-binary and 40% of 41% or more of those folks identify as LGBTQ plus. I can tell you those stats don’t exist anywhere in any other retraining or rescaling opportunity in the unit United States period in technology. I think we are the leading LGBTQ plus technology training program in the us
Irma Olguin Jr. (37:59):
And near and dear to my heart picking up where you left off. I think 60% of our folks are come from black or brown communities. And nearly half of the trainees are either first generation Americans or are immigrants. Which I think is just a again with our, our mantra or our, our slogan, no one belongs here more than you. When you walk into any one of our buildings or when you sit in any one of our meetings, if you don’t see that represented in your very first call, then I, that would actually blow my hair back. Yeah. Right. You should see yourself day one really, really important to us. And then some of the work that’s newer to us. And when I say newer, not quite nine years old, just in the last four or five years one in 20 of our folks are veterans and one in 50 are firmly incarcerated. So these are folks that in many ways, struggle to reenter the population in ways that make themselves proud importantly, and that resonates with their communities. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> and so being able to serve these populations and to include them in what we’re doing, again, not as charity, but because there’s an economic and moral imperative that we do this well is, is the joy of our existence is of the Bitwise life. For sure.
Michelle Skoor (39:13):
Yeah. And then tying, I, we talked about income and earning for apprentices, but important to note the outcomes, right? Those are the folks that are representative of the work. Those folks are landing jobs. 80% of our pre-app apprentices are gaining employment in the tech or tech adjacent space. And I think we are still hovering above 90% of our apprentices are getting placed in full-time technology employment at the end of their apprenticeship, whether that’s with Bitwise and tech consulting or with our technology, employer partners. So it’s not just that we’re training up, but we are also helping close, or I guess not even close the loop, but hit the next step of the Lilypad, which is those folks are gaining employment at the end of their training journey with us as well,
Irma Olguin Jr. (39:58):
Tripling. And then in some cases called juing their income in the first two to three years after training or with including training actually. Right. so it works, <laugh>
Michelle Skoor (40:11):
Turns out it works. You can diversify the tech industry. It turns out
Irma Olguin Jr. (40:14):
<Laugh> and, and, you know, also be about human beings. You can do both things. Right. So if you’re listening and you’ve heard all of these things and you’re convinced, what do you actively do about it? What, what is the per what does the person listening do tomorrow?
Michelle Skoor (40:32):
Email M
Irma Olguin Jr. (40:36):
Michelle Skoor (40:38):
No, I mean, I think the first is looking at if you were, if you were an organization that’s looking to support a piece of this ecosystem. I, I really truly think there’s so much to collaborate on, to engage in the discussions if you’re a technology company and you’re looking at workplace inclusion, right? The, the importance of this episode and so many others that this podcast produces. I, I think there’s some really big conversations to have around. What are those efforts where do you start off with hiring? What are your barriers? Sometimes it’s having really uncomfortable conversations and looking back behind the curtain to say what’s existing, that’s keeping people out rather than bringing people in. And then how do we set about doing, how do we set about changing that and where are ways and who are the people that we can look to to help us have those conversations? Because I think one piece that, that, that I think we stand for, and I would love the narrative to change more is this doesn’t mean you have to go do it by yourself. Like let’s collaborate. Let’s also take a page out of picking up the phone and, and having conversations that other folks are doing this work that we can learn from, and that can learn from us. And let’s start having more of those transparent conversations about what’s possible.
Irma Olguin Jr. (42:02):
Absolutely. And if you are tuning in and you’re not yet ready to upset everything, your HR department is doing and change all the ways that you hire, and maybe you’re also not yet ready to start your own technology apprenticeship, how else can you participate? Well, look, there are companies like Bitwise and others that exist, where if you choose to get your technology outsourced needs staffed or serviced by Bitwise like technology company, you’re still participating in the production of the next generation of technology talent, right? So if you’ve got those needs and you’re thinking about where you’re gonna staff them out or outsource them, look at a bit wise, like place where they are fundamental thesis is that you can both deliver software and it solutions around the planet and also participate in the generation of that next technology workforce. And I think that about covers it for us
Michelle Skoor (42:53):
As you stay in the all teams what, that’s a full
Irma Olguin Jr. (42:58):
Lid, that’s a full lid. That’s right. Thanks to the forum on workplace inclusion for having us on I had a great
Michelle Skoor (43:05):
Time, had a great time. Thanks so much for the conversation. Irma, Ben, thanks for the intro. Thanks for having us.
Ben Rue (43:13):
Thank you so much, Irma and Michelle for that wonderful podcast and thank you to our listeners and sponsor best buy, to learn more. Visit Bitwise industry.com. New episodes of the forum podcasts are available@forumworkplaceinclusion.org slash podcast. You can also find their podcast on apple podcast, Spotify, anchor, and sit. Thank you so much for listening and have a great day.
Speaker 1 (43:36):
Thank you again for listening to the forum and workplace inclusion podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast to get updates in the latest episodes. Also tell us what you think by reviewing our podcast. We’d love to hear your feedback for more information. Visit us at forum, workplace inclusion.org, or search workplace forum on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Thank you very much and have a great day.
Speaker 1 (43:59):
The forum on workplace inclusion podcast is recorded at Augsburg university in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One of the most diverse private colleges in the Midwest Augsburg university offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and nine graduate degrees to 3,400 students of diverse backgrounds at its campus in the vibrant center of the twin cities and nearby Rochester, Minnesota location. Augsburg educates students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders in Augsburg. Education is defined by excellence in the local arts and professional studies guided by the faith and values of the Lutheran church and shaped by its urban and global settings. Learn more@augsburg.edu.


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