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Bitwise plans to hire 60-70 local tech apprentices

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Fresno-based Bitwise Industries continues to make progress on its new Bakersfield home at the southwest corner of 18th and H streets.

Bitwise Industries plans to hire and train 60 to 70 people in Bakersfield with some of the $50 million it has received through a new investment that also allows it to expand for the first time outside California.

The Fresno-based tech hub known for training minorities in computer coding expects to unveil the investment today. It told The Californian Tuesday the money will help it scale up and strengthen its current investments in California, including in Bakersfield.

Overall, Bitwise said it expects to hire 500 people to participate in apprenticeships allowing employees to "earn while you learn." A local vice president said most of those hired will stay working at Bitwise but that, if the organization doesn't have a position that fits, the apprentices will land somewhere else in the local tech industry.

Vice President Amy Thelen said participants will go through a program Bitwise is calling the "Digital New Deal," in which trainees will be paid to learn through the company's existing courses in business, computer technology and other topics.

"It's … hands-on workforce development," she said.

If a local school district needs a computer software project completed, for example, the company might assign a senior developer to work with a team of apprentices to develop a solution, Thelen said. That provides job experience while also serving customers, she explained.

The initiative is unrelated to a job-training contract Bitwise is running separately for the city of Bakersfield, Thelen said.

Bitwise's new investment was led by Oakland-based investment group Kapor Capital, which contributed to the tech company's first major round of fundraising in 2019. Kapor was joined in the latest round by JPMorgan Chase, Motley Fool Ventures and ProMedica.

“Our apprentices are able to earn-while-they-learn, instead of being blocked by the financial barriers of traditional education,” Jake Soberal, Bitwise's CEO and co-founder, said in a news release dated today.

An expansion into Toledo, Ohio is also being funded by the new financing, the release said.

Meanwhile, renovations continue on a building on the southwest corner of 18th and H streets that Bitwise hopes to turn into its Bakersfield hub. That project has been slowed by the pandemic even as the company works to expand its services around the state and the country.

Bakersfield Ward 2 City Councilman Andrae Gonzales said by email he sees the new apprenticeship program as exciting for several reasons.

First, it will provide meaningful employment opportunities at a time when Bakersfield residents need them most, he stated. Second, it will help the revitalization of downtown, where Bitwise is building its new center.

"I believe Bitwise will be a key anchor in bringing more people downtown to work, collaborate, and innovate — and all of Downtown will be better because of it," Gonzales wrote.

The president CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, Nick Ortiz, called Bitwise's apprenticeship program "a step in the direction of our local workforce needs, and it comes at the perfect time."

Recent research shows Bakersfield has "significant gaps" to fill in building mid- and high-tech talent pools, he said by email: Only one in five advertised mid-tech positions are filled or recruited locally.

"Companies are filling those gaps through consultants and out of town talent, as opposed to local hires," he wrote.

Apprentices will only be considered for employment if they come referred, Thelen said, noting that anyone can make a referral.