The valley tech company Bitwise has opened the doors of its new location at the intersection of M and Main streets in Downtown Merced.
Established in Fresno, Bitwise seeks to help “underestimated people” by empowering them to change their own lives and transforming local economies. The firm has a proven ability to place workers into tech positions, with 80 percent of their approximately 8,000 trainees finding jobs in the field.
The 6,500 square foot facility on Main Street will focus on connecting local talent with employers at local businesses.
“We are here in Merced to create a tech economy, and we create tech economies by deploying our tech ecosystem,” explained Norma Cardona, the vice president of Bitwise Industries. “It has three branches to it, including real estate, workforce training, and software solutions. Those three together are the driving force behind our economic engine.”
The coworking space at Bitwise in Merced is for microbusinesses who might need a desk or a chair to do work.
“These are typically microbusinesses or people who are starting non-profits, and that’s very significant because the fees are $40 a month, and for students it is $25 a month,” Cardona said. “The way that this works is that we have the coworking space but our hope is that your business can grow to move into one of our suites.”
Currently the suites offered by Bitwise have already been snagged, with a real estate company, a tech company, and a non-profit organization being the first to secure the locations.
“We do this on purpose because the people that we recruit and train and upscale into our workforce training program are underestimated people,” Cardona said. “Underestimated people are people who are formerly incarcerated, formerly houseless, people of color, women, veterans, anyone who has been left out of tech opportunities,” said Cardona. “The reason I bring this up is because those people who haven’t had these opportunities, we want them to be working alongside of and rubbing shoulders with the future CEO of a tech company or the future CEO of a non-profit.”
The walls of Bitwise are adorned with vibrant artwork produced by local artists, ensuring an attractive and inviting environment. In other Bitwise facilities, the community is invited in through family and movie night events. This works to ensure that members of the community are able to make their way into the building easily and comfortably to learn more about Bitwise’s offerings.
“The heart of what we do is our workforce training program,” Cardona said. “Here we are in a classroom that fits 20 to 30 students, and we chose this as a classroom because we want people to have access to the view, and for the public to be able to see what is happening,” said Cardona.
Throughout their time in the classroom, around 60 students will be taking classes daily once COVID-19 subsides and Bitwise completely ramps up their in-person classes. As someone who is interested looks to begin the learning process with Bitwise, they would start out with four pre-apprenticeship classes that help the student understand what is involved in the program and ensure that the environment is a good fit for them. “So you would start taking these classes, and then there are a few paths you can take after these classes,” said Cardona. “The first is that you take these classes and then you’re ready for an entry level tech job, or you can go a different direction and be considered for the full year paid apprenticeship program.”
To be considered for the one-year paid apprenticeship program, instructors look for students who have displayed resiliency, determination, and have contributed to the success of others while completing the first four initial courses. “We want to see those core values of grit, determination, and contributing to the success of others to recruit and nominate you into the one year paid apprenticeship program,” said Cardona.
Once a student makes their way into the paid apprenticeship program, they are given a sustainable wage, and will receive paid time off as well as medical benefits.
“This is an opportunity for them to learn and start a career in tech,” Cardona explained,” On average one of the things we’ve seen in Fresno is that people come in earning $24,000 a year and then the paid apprenticeship program brings that up to a little less than $35,000, and once they’re done their earning potential goes up to $60,000 a year and within three years if they go into management their earning potential goes up to $80,000 a year,” Cardona explained.
Cardona went on to say that the change in income often times brings people out of difficult financial situations and to a point where they can begin to plan for their family’s future.
During the course of the apprenticeship, Bitwise works with the apprentices on both hard skills as well as software skills, and helps them choose a path that could consist of anything from coding and development, to project management and quality assurance
“We pay you to learn a tech job or a tech adjacent job, and for that one year, the apprentices are working on real life contracts that we might have in the business industry or that we might have with government agencies or with the State of California.
“For example, we have a website called OnwardCA.org which, when COVID first happened, it was a system to help people connect to services and job training programs and opportunities. So apprentices will have the opportunity to work on projects like those that they would be able to show to future employees. Throughout the course of student’s education with Bitwise, they have access to student support specialists to assist them and provide an individual contact to reach out to should the need arise.”
In addition to working with existing local outreach organizations to find residents that would benefit and are interested in the types of services offered by Bitwise, those looking to build new skill sets can do so by making their way into the building on the corner of M and Main Street, or by logging onto bitwiseindustries.com to register for classes.
Classes start at $250, and run for six weeks, with two three-hour classes per week. Scholarships are available by emailing [email protected], and additionally loaner laptops are available for program participants as well as internet for the program. Businesses interested in working with Bitwise are encouraged to reach out to see what technology-based solutions can be compiled by the Bitwise team.