A grant program helps finance computer apprenticeships in rural areas


November 29, 2021


Catherine schulte

Mark Eschle helped Wize Solutions establish its grant-funded two-person learning program. Photo by Earl Neikirk

Jonathon Evans graduated in computer science in May and wants to stay in his hometown of Abingdon. Lucky for him, information technology company Wize Solutions LLC was looking for apprentices as part of a targeted public program that lowers the costs of hiring and training employees new to technology.

“In order to get a job I was looking for I would have had to move to a non-rural or out-of-state area, so the apprenticeship allowed me to stay in my area and get a highly skilled IT job. “Evans says.

Administered by the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, the Virginia Rural Information Technology Grant Program aims to create post- and potentially pre-college technology jobs in rural areas, with the goal of fostering technological economic development. Applications opened on July 6 and companies can apply as long as funds remain available.

Through the program, which received $ 1 million in state funding in July after its funding was cut last year due to the pandemic, Wize Solutions is receiving grants for half the salary, benefits and training costs, capped at $ 60,000 per year, for each of the two full-time paid apprentices participating in Wize’s 18-month apprenticeship program.

“It’s a good deal for us,” says Mark Eschle, vice president of operations for Wize Solutions. “His it’s a good deal for the clients we serve and it’s a good deal for the region, as it allows us to create jobs for people who would otherwise have to leave the region.

IT companies with less than 100 employees in five towns in southwest Virginia and 17 counties, ranging from Lee to Botetourt, are eligible to apply for the program after registering as apprenticeship sponsors with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry , as did Wize Solutions, or the federal government.

“We want to make you grow and we want to make people grow,” says David Matlock, executive director of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center. “And in the process, we’ll develop rural Virginia.”

The two apprentices from Wize Solutions graduated from university in May. In addition to gaining experience working on a client project, Evans is pursuing certification with Blue Prism, a software company specializing in programming tools for automating repetitive manual tasks such as entering numbers. in a spreadsheet.

Wize Solutions plans to hire Evans and his other apprentices as full-time employees upon completion of their apprenticeship in late 2022.

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