How colleges are training students for in-demand cybersecurity jobs

Employers are desperate for cybersecurity workers. More than 280,000 cybersecurity jobs went unfilled between September 2016 and September 2017, and experts predict the field's talent shortage will reach 1.8 million workers by 2022.

That skills gap means big opportunities for students—and for the colleges that can prepare them to fill open positions.

CXO Magazine recently profiled one successful partnership between higher education, community, and business that helps fill cybersecurity positions in St. Louis.

During the 18-month program, apprentices of the Midwest Cyber Center (MC2) participate in on-the-job training while also completing online coursework offered by the center's 10 college and university partners, which include Lewis & Clark Community College, Saint Louis University, and University of Missouri-St. Louis.

While in the program, apprentices earn $15 to $24 per hour, half of which is paid by their employer and half of which is paid by MC2 grant funding. When they graduate, they receive a stackable certification.

Also see: Young women decide against cybersecurity, one of the fastest-growing fields, before age 16

The MC2 program is only the third of its kind in the United States, CXO Magazine reports.

MC2 places apprentices at employers like Masterclock, a small firm that produces precision timing devices for tech and defense companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Masterclock couldn't afford to compete in the cybersecurity labor market for an experienced analyst, so it turned to MC2 for an apprentice. Other apprentices have been placed at Elsevier and Network Technology Partners.

MC2 also produces apprentices who fill non-technical roles related to cybersecurity. For example, one apprentice works at a local science museum, teaching cybersecurity basics to teens.

"It's not just for tech firms," says Mardy Leathers, a Missouri Labor Department official and the director of workforce development for the state. A wide range of organizations now require cybersecurity teams that can help with the "challenges of protecting data, securing data, and organizing and managing their data."

There's a cybersecurity expert shortage. Colleges can help.

MC2's biggest challenge right now is placement. Around 300 people applied to the program's first cohort, which accepted 25 apprentices and has placed 6 of them with employers.

But program leaders say they've seen a spike of employer interest. "Companies are actually approaching us and asking how they can get involved," says MC2's executive director, Tony Bryan. He notes that MC2 recently changed its policy to allow employers to find their own candidates and enroll them in the program.

One benefit of the approach is that it can help diversify the cybersecurity field by creating a pipeline for nontraditional workers.

"Now we can reach into communities [where] we never thought that we'd be into," says Colonel Terrence Adams, the chief information and data officer at Scott Air Force Base, where one of MC2's offices is located, and a member of MC2's advisory board. "So, retirees, they could be veterans of the military, they could be somebody who may have been a bus driver before. You just never know the talent," Adams says (Velasco, CXO Magazine, accessed 2/16; Gray, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/25/17; MC2 site, accessed 2/16).

Three ways colleges can seize the opportunity to close the cybersecurity talent gap

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