Once he finished, an internship was waiting for him at Sparkypants Studios, a video game development company in Baltimore. Now he's learning on the job and plans to study computer science in college to prepare for a career in programming.
"I'm doing what I always dreamed of doing," Wilkins told a crowd of technology industry leaders who gathered in South Baltimore for an event launching the White House's TechHire program in the city.
Local leaders hope the TechHire program will lead to more stories like Wilkins' — it is offering $100 million in federal grants for technology training programs. At least half of the money is intended for young people who face barriers to job training and work opportunities, and another $20 million in U.S. Labor Department grants is going toward job training for ex-offenders, officials said.
In joining the initiative Tuesday, Baltimore is now among 34 other TechHire communities across the country. Organizations don't have to be in designated TechHire cities to receive the grants, but local leaders said they hope participation in the program brings a larger boost to the local work force.
"We're going to go after the grants, but more fundamentally, this is what our city needs," said Michael Cryor, chairman of One Baltimore, a community group organized in the wake of April's unrest in the city.
Local leaders spoke alongside U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith at City Garage, a new space for startup manufacturers developed by Plank Industries, a private venture of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.
One Baltimore plans to bring together a coalition of Baltimore employers, technology groups and educational organizations to apply for a TechHire grant, and to lead other efforts to boost the local work force, Cryor said.
The grants will go to efforts that provide quick paths to jobs, such as "boot camp"-style training programs that help break down barriers to work through mentoring, transportation and networking, and that connect people with trusted industry organizations that could vouch for them in their job searches.
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Perez, who formerly led the Maryland labor department, said he hopes the program breaks down barriers for the benefit of unemployed and underemployed workers as well as the economy as a whole.
Other TechHire communities include Rust Belt cities like Cincinnati and Akron, Ohio, and Birmingham, Ala.; and also cities with strong technology industries that may not be accessible to all, such as San Jose, Calif., and Washington.
"ZIP code should never determine destiny in this country," Perez said.