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Coding school accepting applications for first class
After receiving a license to operate as a higher education institution in November, the Fortress Academy is moving forward with plans to start its first 12-week class next spring.
The academy, located in the former Western National Bank building at 301 W. Market St., is now taking applications for the class — but enrolling in the program won’t be easy.
Fortress President John McElligott said the school is looking for about 160 applicants but will take only eight students for its first class — a 5 percent acceptance rate.
McElligott said the academy is seeking applicants from recent high school graduates to people in their 60s who are ready for a career change. Applying is the first of a five-step screening process to determine an applicant’s suitability for the intensive computer-programming course.
Prospective students will be given a programming aptitude test, though McElligott encouraged people not to be worried if they don’t think programming will come naturally.
“One of the unique things about computer programming is that people don’t know they have an aptitude (for it),” he said.
Unique opportunities: The curriculum will train students in practical coding that is immediately applicable to the manufacturing industry, McElligott said.
Instead of trying to capitalize on the “app boom” in cities such as San Francisco, the course will prepare students for the “post-industrial revolution” and job opportunities that are unique to the region, he said.
“The state of Pennsylvania will pave its own technology future,” McElligott said, driven in part by the growth of smart technology in Pittsburgh, including driverless cars and other transportation innovations.
Tom Palisin, executive director of the Manufacturing Association of South Central Pennsylvania, said the region is one of the most densely populated manufacturing areas in the country, with a diverse spectrum of manufacturers, a robust supply chain and a skilled workforce, as well as impressive infrastructure for easy access to major markets.
More than 112,000 people are employed by about 2,500 manufacturing companies in the south central part of the state, he said. With a lack of technologically capable workers and almost a third of the region’s workforce age 55 or older, there is a huge demand for replacement workers with robotics and computer programming skills, Palisin added.
“You’ll find that manufacturing is not the image of your grandfather’s manufacturing anymore,” he said. “It is high-tech, clean, automated, bright, with high-paying jobs.”
Through automation and technology, manufacturers have been able to dramatically increase output while boosting pay levels for employees, Palisin said.
The program: The Fortress Academy’s 12-week course will be much different from programs with large classes, as the school’s first eight students will be given hands-on training that teaches more than just coding, McElligott said.
While the academy wants to prepare its students to land jobs in the industry, it is also important to ensure they are a good fit for employers, he said. Instructors will focus on interpersonal and intergenerational skills to ensure graduates are prepared for the culture of the industry.
“Rather than take people’s money and run them through the program, we want to make sure they have the skills and mindset necessary to be beneficial to any team,” McElligott said.
At $7,995, the 12-week program is one of the cheaper options for those interested in coding, he said. Coding schools do not yet have access to federal education funding, but a number of new start-ups can help students finance programs at Fortress Academy, including Upstart, Pave and Path, McElligott said.
Students who pass the course will receive a Fortress Academy computer programming diploma as a certificate of their graduation.
Licensing: The licensing process took longer than expected and came with a bit of a learning curve for both the Fortress Academy and the Department of Education, McElligott said. The academy was the first coding school to seek a license from the state.
Without a license from the state Department of Education, the academy would not have been able to solicit, advertise or provide public training to students.
McElligott said he had hoped to open Fortress Academy in early 2016, but instead of getting frustrated by licensing delays, he used the time to travel across the country to identify expansion sites for the Fortress Initiative.
The academy in York will act as a pilot location, with a rapid expansion plan in the works if the school is successful in its mission, he said.
“(The delay) was a little bit of a blessing in disguise. It forced us to slow down here but gave me a chance to travel across the U.S. and start planting seeds on a nationwide level,” McElligott said.
After spending five years working toward opening a coding school, McElligott can finally see the end — or beginning — in sight.
Those interested in Fortress Academy can find more information about the program at www.thefortressinitiative.org.