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St. Pete code school launches program to fill gaps in the workforce

Margie Manning



Kento Kawakami, enrollment specialist, and Mark Dewey, core instructor, Suncoast Developers Guild, at the Sept. 4 presentation at 1 Million Cups St. Petersburg

Suncoast Developers Guild, a nonprofit coding school in St. Petersburg, is launching a new workforce initiative to help companies train in-demand tech staff.

It’s an expansion of the work SDG has been doing since it opened in 2018, offering full-time immersive courses to prepare students for entry-level jobs as web developers. SDG is now in its sixth cohort of full-time students, said core instructor Mark Dewey.

“Now we’re trying to take this to the next level,” Dewey said during a presentation Sept. 4 at 1 Million Cups St. Petersburg. “We know there are still more gaps in the workforce. There are still more people who need up-skilling and who need training. Our next big push will be for workforce initiatives. These are things like full-time sponsorships, part-time training and in-house training.”

The initiative recognizes and aims to address the demand for developers, said Toni Warren, co-founder and president of SDG.

“Companies need help finding candidates. There’s often a negative employment rate for developers in this area,” she said. “And developers, because they are so high in demand, can bounce around jobs … When a company will put someone through the program, they tend to stay longer.”

Related story: Talking in code: A conversation with Toni Warren [Audio]

The new Suncoast Developers Guild workforce initiative will have three offerings.

Full-time sponsorships, for a newly hired employee a company wants to sponsor through the SDG program. As an example Dewey cited a developer with UI or UX skills who wants to learn JavaScript.

Part-time training, for workers who are project managers or in quality assurance, “tech adjacent” employees who need to know a little more about technology to take their skills to the next level.

In-house training. ‘We work with company to identify skill gaps and we create a curriculum and set it up,” Dewey said.

SDG’s current course offerings include training in React and .Net, but the workforce initiative won’t be limited to that. “If your tech stack is something different, we have resources and can create custom curriculum around that,” Dewey said.

Warren said SDG has worked with two companies already on the workforce initiative – Proforma, the second-largest printing and promotional products distributor in North America; and Experian, a credit reporting agency. SDG wants to add more companies to the list.

Warren didn’t talk about specific financial terms of the workforce initiative. Right now, SDG charges $14,900 for the full-time, 12 week immersion program, and $1,200 for a six-week, part-time program. The organization says the average starting salary for graduates is $50,000 and it has a 90 percent placement rate.

“We’re changing lives,” Warren said. “We’ll provide them with the tech skills to be web developers, but we also provide them with the soft skills and career support to be successful out in the workforce looking for those jobs.”

Some senior developers are skeptical that SDG can teach in three months the skills that those developers have spent a decade learning, said Jason Perry, CEO. But Perry said he saw the model work at The Iron Yard, a for-profit coding bootcamp that abruptly shut down operations in 2017 after it was acquired by Apollo Education Group, which also owns the University of Phoenix.

“At the end of the day, it was probably just a line item on the accounting ledger for a really big company that wasn’t returning on investment fast enough,” Perry said. “That’s not something I ever want to happen to us. As a nonprofit it can’t, because we don’t have owners and shareholders, we have a board of directors to whom we are accountable, and the community.”

The current cohort of full-time students will show off their work to the community at a Demo Day at 2 p.m. Oct. 18, on the SDG campus, 2220 Central Ave.

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