September 27, 2022

The West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) is launching a program that provides Kent County adults with a tuition-free pathway to a career in cybersecurity. Pictured is a computer screen at the University of Michigan-Flint on Feb. 14, 2022, where a cyber security bachelor's degree is available for the fall semester. (Jake May | MLive.com)
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A nonprofit is launching a new training program that provides Kent County adults with a tuition-free pathway to a career in cybersecurity, a high-paying field where demand is growing.
The West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) in Grand Rapids new cybersecurity training pathway is part of its tuition-free Adult Career Training Program, which provides underemployed and unemployed adults with training for in-demand jobs that pay well.
Graduates of the seven-month training program will be able to earn certification in various cybersecurity credentials including Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge, Auditing AI Foundations Certification, and Fundamentals of Children’s Privacy, according to WMCAT’s website.
The nonprofit will accept 12 adults into the program for its first year, according to a news release from the nonprofit. Enrollment is open through Oct. 17, and the seven-month program will start in December 2022.
Jamon Alexander, president + CEO of WMCAT, said employer demand for trained specialists in cybersecurity and GRC (governance, risk and compliance) is high and rising, the release said.
“We know that right now economic opportunity is in technology,” Alexander said in a statement. “WMCAT is committed to connecting people to new educational and career pathways, diversifying the tech talent pipeline, and supporting inclusive growth in the region to ensure all families can thrive in the digital economy.”
The number of information security analyst positions in West Michigan is expected to increase 18% through 2023, according to West Michigan Works!. Average starting salary in the field ranges between $64,740 and $77,849 a year, according to WMCAT’s website.
Mid-career professionals in these positions earn a median hourly rate of $49.33, or approximately $102,600 in annual salary, according to the nonprofit’s news release.
Students in the cybersecurity training program will take both remote and in-person classes that run Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The seven-month program will end in June 2023.
The nonprofit is partnering with national provider GRC (Governance, Risk and Compliance) for Intelligent Ecosystems, or GRCIE, to provide students with online instruction in a virtual reality environment.
“When designing and implementing a workforce transformation initiative at the community level, it is critical that the students have access to an on-the-ground network of experts to provide a strong network of social services,” said Jenai Marinkovic, executive director of GRCIE, in a prepared statement.
“We are excited to partner with WMCAT to build out this first-of-its-kind program where students are educated in the metaverse and learn cybersecurity fundamentals, as well as how to protect and defend artificially intelligent ecosystems in this ever-changing world.”
WMCAT’s Adult Career Training Program is geared toward adults in Kent County 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, according to the nonprofit. Forty-five percent of families live below that threshold in Kentwood and Wyoming.
WMCAT’s tuition-free adult training program, which has been around for 17 years, also offers pathways programs for health information and pharmacy technicians. In addition to covering tuition, the program also includes a stipend, access to an emergency fund, and on-site supports for adult learners.
Around 80% of graduates from the program end up with a career with local employers like Spectrum Health, Meijer, and Mercy Health within six months of graduation, according to WMCAT.
WMCAT’s new cybersecurity training program is possible thanks to recent multi-year funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, according to the release.
Tracie Coffman, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, said the foundation hopes the funding will help reduce the racial wealth gap in Grand Rapids.
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, according to data from the city.
“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,” Coffman said in a prepared statement.
“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.”
Applicants of the Adult Career Training Program must have a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED), live in Kent County, receive some form of public assistance and have no record of a felony. They also must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Adults who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are encouraged to apply, according to the release.
Interested applicants can learn more about the Cybersecurity + GRC pathway program and begin the three-step enrollment process at work.wmcat.org/enrollment or call 616-454-7004.
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