Following six months of planning and extensive input from the community, this April, Sharpsburg-based Deeplocal will launch a one-year apprenticeship program called Gizmology. The program is focused on creating a path into the tech industry for Pittsburgh’s Black and historically marginalized communities.
From Rec2Tech to the Citizen Science Lab, a series of STEM education programs within Pittsburgh have sought to jump start the conversation with young people about the possibilities the tech field could hold for them. Still, a barrier to pursuing one’s tech-based interests could be the cost of an engineering degree, or support a young person just doesn’t have. Gizmology, Program Director Kirk Holbrook told Technical.ly, wants to counteract the existing disparities for Black and brown residents with mentorship and real-world opportunities. It comes at a moment when tech apprenticeships are growing in popularity nationally.
“We want to ensure that these opportunities are really embedded within Black Pittsburgh, but again, are made available to individuals who haven’t necessarily pursued a traditional degree path, as a way of entering the technology workforce,” Holbrook said.
What makes this program different from others in the area? For starters, it’s designed around Deeplocal’s focus on creative technology. It is neither a coding bootcamp nor a trade school, Holbrook said, but a program open to individuals without traditional two- or four-year degrees. Additionally, Gizmology is offering five tracks its participants can choose to follow: creative technology, exhibit fabrication, technical assembly, technical integration and mechanical design.
“A lot of the work that is done here at Deeplocal is interdisciplinary in nature,” Holbrook said. “Our software engineers work alongside our mechanical and electrical engineers, who work alongside our exhibit fabricators, and most of the staff here have unique skill sets and multiple disciplines.”
Plenty of regional experts have said Pittsburgh needs to invest in attracting tech workers to, and within, the region. With that in mind, Deeplocal aims to prepare the apprentices to stay on at the company once the year-long program is up. Apprentices will get to build their portfolios by working with Deeplocal’s global brand clients such as Google, Spotify, Netflix, Meta and TikTok. By working on hands-on projects during the program’s duration, Holbrook said, the apprentices will gain experience that will serve them well in real-world settings.
“To really maximize apprentices’ ability to stay on at Deeplocal beyond this year, we wanted to build a curriculum again, which would build foundational skill sets in design and fabrication, mechatronics and creative technology,” he said.
Once the apprenticeship begins, participants will be offered an initial salary of $45,000. Throughout the program, Gizmology participants will have access to all of the benefits such as health insurance, hybrid work options and the paid vacation time that any Deeplocal employee would, per Holbrook.
The curriculum itself was put together with a great deal of community input. Indeed, Holbrook considers Gizmology’s Community Advisory Board — which includes the likes of Meter Feeder CEO and cofounder Jim Gibbs, Neighborhood Allies Director of Digital Inclusion and Innovation Itha Cao, and Rec2Tech’s own Max Dennison — to be one of its greatest strengths, and said it’s key in making Gizmology a resource for Black and brown Pittsburghers.
Gizmology apps are due by March 13, and the program will start April 17. For the first cohort, three to five applicants will be accepted. Later in the fall, Holbrook said, Gizmology will bring on eight cohort members, with the long-term goal of having a full cohort with 20 members.
What’s one thing you need to know if you’re considering applying?
“There is going to be a real opportunity to build your skills in this industry, even if there isn’t already an experience or a formal education,” Holbrook said. “I think it’s going to be important for folks to know that the way that we’re designing our curriculum [and] the way that we’ll be onboarding our apprentices, that it’s going to demystify a lot of people’s assumptions about tech.”Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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