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Through this series, we examine the disproportionate financial toll of COVID-19 on Black and Latino communities, including how it has affected individuals, families and businesses.

Charlotte Program Gives These Residents Affected By COVID-19 Opportunity To Shift Careers To Tech

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Courtesy of Tech Elevator
The city of Charlotte spent around $170,000 in CARES Act funding to provide 11 students with full scholarships to attend Tech Elevator’s 14-week coding boot camp.

Está historia está disponible en español en La Noticia

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Miguel Avila was forced to make a difficult decision.

He was working at a tech company, but his family’s pool construction business, Daily View Pools, was struggling.

“There was definitely slowdown in sort of the amount of work that we could do,” Avila said. “A lot of people were just very anxious about having construction people come to their house.“

With revenue down 40%, he says he felt a responsibility to support his family. It was his idea to start the business back in 2016, he says, and the rest of his family depended entirely on the business for income.

“I felt like I needed to help my family during this period of struggle,” Avila said. “That made me shift a lot of my focus from my day job to working with my family.”

Avila says as he worked on helping his family’s business recover, he started to fall behind in his day job at a tech marketing company. Soon, he was laid off.

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Courtesy of Miguel Avila
Miguel Avila felt a responsibility to help his family’s pool construction business out after it was impacted by COVID-19.

“I knew that the inevitable was coming,” Avila said. “I had to almost pick between like, ‘Do I help my family continue to see this business and keep it alive and not lay off any employees that we have by spending time and energy here? Or do I just focus on myself and just say, sorry, that's not my problem and just do me, you know?”

But right after being laid off, Avila says he was given a lifeline. He was accepted into Tech Elevator, a 14-week coding boot camp that prepares students to become software developers.

Avila says he applied to the program hoping to strengthen his skills and possibly learn to automate some of the jobs in his family’s construction business.

“I think this program was perfect because it gave me some flexibility to be able to work on what I needed to do and allowed me to continue to build my technical skills while I was still helping my family,” Avila said.

The city of Charlotte partnered with Tech Elevator and provided full, one-time scholarships to 11 students. The city used CARES Act funding to cover the $15,000 cost of the program for people who had been financially impacted by COVID-19. Avila was one of the scholarship recipients.

“Everything I basically saved up in my year and a half for working at this tech company was put back into the family business so we wouldn't go under. I was pretty much left with no money,” Avila said. “ So the fact that I was able to receive the scholarship actually allowed me to join the program. Otherwise I would not have been able to do it.”

Avila graduated from the program in March and he says the skills he learned will help him continue to improve his family’s business.

Kelly Brucker, a program director at Tech Elevator says during an economically uncertain time, moving into the tech industry gives students more job security.

“Coding is one of the most in-demand, if not the most in-demand skill set to have,” Brucker said.

Brucker says students who go through Tech Elevator have an average salary increase of $20,000. Previous graduates are working in software development jobs in companies like Uber, Facebook and Google.

“Not only are they going to have financial security, they're going to have job security, because even if they go through a round of layoffs, they're going to be able to get a new job very easily,” Brucker said.

Brucker says the Charlotte cohort had a 100% graduation rate. She says alongside Avila in the boot camp, there was a train conductor, a photographer and a chef. About half of the students had bachelor’s degrees.

“We had students coming in with really great polished resumes, and students who needed a lot of work on their resumes," Brucker said. "We had students who had never been through a professional interview before. We had some students who had some previous experience in coding and some who didn't have any.”

Taking the skills he learned in Tech Elevator, Avila says he plans on working as a software developer for a few years. He says he hopes to get more experience so he can continue to expand his family’s business and automate some of their processes.

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Maria Ramirez Uribe is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte.