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By Kendall Crawford, Iowa Public Radio

A new program is launching in Council Bluffs that will work to recruit and connect the local Latino community to careers in tech.

The Omaha-based AIM Institute is working with southwest Iowa organizations to bring a free 10-week technology course to the growing Spanish-speaking community in the area. The courses will be offered alongside English as a second language (ESL) classes taught by Iowa Western Community College.

The AIM Institute vice president of advancement and community relations Itzel Lopez said the program’s dual class structure will help break down the barriers many immigrants face to joining the local tech community.

As an immigrant herself, Lopez said she’s seen the gap firsthand. She said she wants to ensure the Spanish-speaking community can see a future in tech as attainable for them.

“I was born and raised in Mexico when I did not see anyone in my family pursue any of the STEM careers,” she said. “And then when I was growing up in Omaha, I didn’t have conversations with anyone that I can remember about this either.”

The CB Tech Career Acceleration program will be open to 20 southwest Iowans who are underemployed and living below the poverty line. Lopez said they are aiming for at least half of the participants to come from the Latino community, which makes up 10 percent of the city’s population.

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Chamber of Commerce Workforce Development Director Alicia Frieze said local businesses are in need of more tech workers. She said the community partnership with the AIM Institute allows them to open up those jobs to underserved groups.

“Our Latino community doesn’t always get these opportunities delivered to them,” she said. “It’s not always as diverse and inclusive as we want it to be as a community.”

Participants will leave the program with proper training to become front-end web developers, whose entry-level salaries nationally average more than $55,000, according to ZipRecruiter. The U.S. Census data shows 12.8 percent of the city’s population in poverty, with the hispanic population making up a disproportionate share.

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Lopez said she hopes the skills they learn can launch participants out of the cycle of poverty. She said she believes tech training can have a generational impact on a family’s wealth.

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“These courses will open up a Pandora’s box for folks that would not otherwise consider themselves as technologists,” she said.

The program was made possible through a $50,000 grant from Google, which houses a data center in Council Bluffs. The AIM Institute will work with Centro Latino of Iowa to perform outreach and to identify community needs.

The program is set to launch in late March. Lopez said she hopes this is just the beginning for the organization. She said she wants to see tech programming for Spanish-speaking communities expand farther across the southwest Iowa region.

“I can’t wait to see the ‘aha moments,’” Lopez said. “For them to think ‘I am smart enough, I am capable enough. And, I am also a technologist.’”

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