CINCINNATI — Lashonda Miller was a 2020 high school graduate who didn’t want to feel burdened by the debt associated with going to college.
Connor Twele was an assistant manager at a wine bar who was searching for new opportunities after being furloughed during the pandemic.
Both were among the first group of students to graduate from Kable Academy, a program that offers training in cybersecurity, tech support and web development.
Now Miller works part time as a front-end developer for a local car dealership, earning money while many of her friends have yet to finish their first year of college. And Twele works full time as a software developer for an e-commerce company.
After 10 years in the hospitality industry, Twele said, the 12 weeks he spent as a full-time student at Kable Academy literally changed his life.
“It almost seems hyperbolic to say that, but that’s the reality,” he said. “I feel like I was set up for success.”
That, said Kable Academy president Josh Guttman, is the goal.
The program launched in January 2020 as a response to the region’s need for more information technology training and quickly became an alternative for people like Twele whose livelihoods were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, about 45 students have graduated from the program with another 19 currently enrolled. Students can attend full time from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for 12 weeks or part time from 6 to 9 p.m. over 24 weeks. Classes are offered both in person with social distancing and online.
“It’s very intense,” Guttman said. “It’s 600 hours of learning.”
So far, he said, the program has had three types of students: those who have just graduated from high school and are interested in tech but don’t want to pursue a two- or four-year degree; those whose jobs were upended by the coronavirus; and those who have a college degree but haven’t been able to find a career they like.
Part of the attraction is Kable Academy’s “no jobs, no pay” program. About 80% of students qualify for the program, Guttman said, which delays tuition payments until after graduates are employed.
“Assuming you qualify, we will not charge you a nickel until you get a job,” he said. “Then you start paying us back. If you never get a job, you never pay us back. That way, we’re putting our money where our mouth is, and we’re as committed to the student as the student is to us.”
‘A very big opportunity’
Tuition for Kable Academy totals $14,500, but most students end up paying about $8,500 because of various support they qualify to receive, Guttman said.
Miller, who was only 17 when she graduated from high school, said cost figured into her decision to attend Kable Academy.
She considered going to college after graduating from Woodward Career Technical High School, she said, and got accepted to her first-choice college – Tuskegee University – to study aerospace engineering.
“I mean, I was happy about it, but it was so expensive,” she said.
Miller did some research about technology careers, talked to her counselor at the Jobs for Cincinnati Graduates program that she was involved in and learned about Kable Academy.
“Compared to going to the four years of schooling and having to pay maybe over 100 grand for that versus just potentially paying less than a semester’s worth of school for just four months,” she said, “that’s a very big opportunity.”
Plus, Kable Academy works hard to make sure its graduates get jobs, Guttman said.
“We are working with our students the entire time on their professional skills, getting them ready to talk to companies, getting them ready and prepared for interviews,” he said. “By the time the 12 weeks or the 24 weeks is up, we know everything about them, and they are ready to go.”
Cincinnati Bell has hired several Kable Academy graduates over the past year who have been able to “hit the ground running,” said Mike Grogan, the company’s director of marketing innovation.
“There’s an obvious, clear need for a tech-skilled workforce, and it dates back well before the pandemic,” Grogan said. “With Kable Academy’s training programs, they’re creating a new, local pool of workers with in-demand tech skills.”
‘Limitless’ earning potential
More importantly, Grogan said, Kable Academy graduates are hard-working and driven to succeed. He recalled meeting a student who attended classes full time while working a third-shift job and only sleeping a few hours each night over the 12-week period.
“It really shows the determination of a lot of these students and what they’re willing to go through to advance and better themselves in their careers,” he said. “It may sound a bit cliché, but at the end of the day, we’re looking to hire great people.”
Twele, who is 26, said he had been working in the restaurant industry since he was 16 before he got furloughed.
He had thought about changing careers by going back to school over the years, he said, but the time and expense always seemed like too big an obstacle.
Fortunately, he had enough money to stay afloat for the 12 weeks he was attending Kable Academy, he said. And after regularly working 60-hour weeks at the restaurant, going to class for 40 hours a week plus 20 hours of homework was no problem.
Now Twele said he feels valued at work. He earns about the same in his entry-level tech job as he did when he was a salaried assistant manager at the wine bar, he said. But he has regular hours now, more paid holidays and better benefits. And his bosses regularly talk about the future and his opportunities for advancement.
“I think my potential earnings are kind of limitless,” Twele said.
“It’s kind of hard to believe that there were nights that I was getting off at two or three in the morning that I just don’t have anymore,” he added. “That just all seems like a different life. I can’t really comprehend the way things used to be anymore.”
Twele’s new career gives him more time to spend with his 3-year-old daughter, he said, and his regular hours have given his partner the opportunity to take on a new role at work that helps her advance, too.
“It’s been a domino effect,” he said. “I don’t take the time to appreciate it as much as I should. Sitting down and talking about it definitely helps me put things into perspective.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.