GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new workforce reentry program is connecting young people in the juvenile system to tech opportunities. The program is part of a collaboration between the Midwest Tech Project and the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center.
Jonathan Jelks is a co-founder of The Midwest Tech Project, whose mission is to introduce and connect people of color and women to all the tech industry has to offer.
“Whether it’s manufacturing, which our community has historically based its economy on, or things that are more futuristic, tech is going to be at the forefront,” Jelks said. “There’s a shortage of talent right now in West Michigan that needs to be filled and we’re helping people to understand how they can be a part of that.”
One of the organization’s programs, known as “Tech X,” focuses on bringing those same opportunities to ex-offenders through outreach and training.
“It’s important for us to go to where the people are at, where they’re most at risk, where the most adversity is present and work with them and help them to understand the world is at your fingertips,” Jelks said.
As part of a new pilot program, in partnership with the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center, The Midwest Tech Project brings in different tech professionals to teach young people to not only become consumers of tech but also producers.
“Turn into creators, and turn into potential entrepreneurs,” Jelks said.
Once a month, those within the program are introduced to tech including augmented reality, coding, and app development, among other areas.
“We’re not just talking about the X’s and O’s. Of course, we want to teach them about coding but we’re also telling them you can be an artificial intelligence engineer. You can program robots or you can found the next StockX,” Jelks said.
He said oftentimes a lack of opportunity can lead to young people ending up in the juvenile system. He hopes the program allows those in Kent County to become educated and empowered.
“So that they can then become gainfully employed because the number one thing that stops recidivism is employment. Jobs, jobs, jobs,” Jelks said.
The pilot will continue through December.
Jelks said when people leave the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center, The Midwest Tech Project hopes to continue to be a resource as they navigate their next steps.