September 12, 2023

We are excited to announce the growth of the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology’s (WMCAT) Cybersecurity pathway as part of our tuition-free Adult Career Training Program, to provide more Kent County adults experiencing under- and unemployment the opportunity for thriving wage careers in the tech industry.  

Building upon the success of our inaugural GRC (governance, risk, and compliance) track in 2022-23, we will increase enrollment from 12 students to up to 15 students for the 2024 GRC track; and add a cloud security engineering track to enroll up to an additional 15 students in 2024. By scaling, we will continue to address a market need for cybersecurity professionals as well as a call for closing the wealth gap by providing opportunities in the industry to women and BIPOC communities.  

“Centering people and families is core to our work at WMCAT,” said President + CEO Jamon Alexander. “By increasing access to cybersecurity careers, families historically underrepresented in tech can thrive in the digital economy and we can collectively experience a more inclusive, vibrant region.”

Creating Tuition-Free Access to Opportunity in the Digital Economy 

Since 2005, the Adult Career Training Program has offered training pathways in Health Information and Pharmacy Technician. In fall 2022, WMCAT launched a Cybersecurity pathway focused on GRC (governance, risk, and compliance) as part of our Adult Career Training Program. The addition of the tech training pathway in West Michigan was — and continues to be — aligned with employer demand for trained specialists in cybersecurity and GRC. The pathway helps to advance regional, cross-sector strategy to increase tech education and employment opportunities, in step with The Right Place’s 10-year plan to position Greater Grand Rapids as a tech hub.  

The fall 2022 recruitment process was record-setting for any career training pathway at WMCAT, with 126 individuals expressing interest in the inaugural GRC cohort in the short span of six weeks. The seven-month pilot pathway began in December 2022 with 12 Kent County adults.  

The pathway received broad community support, garnering grant funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Google, as well as receiving financial support and employee engagement from six West Michigan companies that employ cybersecurity professionals: Acrisure, Amway, Consumers Energy, Corewell Health, Farmers Insurance, and Varnum LLP. In addition to these partners, more than a dozen other West Michigan companies, professional networks, and partner organizations were engaged to support the program and students.   

 In June 2023, we celebrated the graduation of 11 students from the program. The 11 graduates of the pilot cohort are all BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or People of Color); 64 percent are men and 36 percent are women. Within two months of graduation, six of 11 graduates obtained employment as GRC Analysts or Security Analysts, with starting salaries between $60,000-$115,000.

Nine of the 11 students celebrate their graduation from WMCAT’s inaugural Cybersecurity pathway.

Stacia Mason speaks at graduation.

One of these graduates, Stacia Mason, reflected on her experience. “Now that I’ve completed the program, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride, excitement, and accomplishment. I’m grateful for the fortunate chain of events that led me here, proving that you don’t need a college degree to succeed in tech.” Within one month of graduating, Stacia was offered a role as GRC Analyst at Acrisure — a Grand Rapids-based insurance and cyber services company that Stacia connected to at WMCAT. 

New Training Opportunity, More Families Impacted  

In Grand Rapids, the median household income is $42,000, but only $25,000 for Black and $31,000 for Hispanic residents. The poverty rate for Hispanic and Black residents is 42 and 38 percent, respectively, compared to 19 percent for white residents (City of Grand Rapids Economic Opportunity Dashboard). 

Opportunities to thrive — not just survive — must be accessible to everyone in our community. 

There is great economic opportunity in the technology sector, and WMCAT is committed to connecting people to 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 addition of the cloud security engineering track to the Cybersecurity pathway is aligned with industry demand and offers thriving wage opportunities within a specialized discipline of cybersecurity. Cloud Security is an essential element of modern cybersecurity that’s growing in importance as data and services increasingly move to the cloud.  

“There is broad appeal and growing demand for cloud security engineers, with a number of positions in the field available now in West Michigan,” shared Scott Dresen, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer for Corewell Health and WMCAT Board Member. “This is a field that will continue to grow.”  

WMCAT will continue to partner with national provider GRC (Governance, Risk and Compliance) for Intelligent Ecosystems, or GRCIE (pronounced “Gracie”), to provide technical training in a virtual reality environment, industry-aligned certifications, connections to employer apprenticeship projects, and job search support for graduates.   

The Adult Career Training Program is tuition-free and includes a stipend, access to an emergency fund, and on-site support so that adults have income stability now as they create a path to economic security and prosperity for the future. The program also includes personal and professional leadership development.  

“WMCAT is a unique space for students to align their lived experiences and values with meaningful pathways to family economic security,” shared WMCAT Director of Workforce Development Renida Clark. “We are excited to introduce more Kent County adults to life-changing careers in the growing cybersecurity industry.” 

Enrollment Open for 2024 Cybersecurity Pathway

Enrollment is open now through October 11, 2023 for the tuition-free Cybersecurity pathway of the Adult Career Training Program. The seven-month GRC track begins in January 2024, and the eight-month cloud security engineering track begins in March 2024. Interested Kent County adults can learn more and begin the four-step enrollment process at Adults who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are encouraged to apply.