Economic development officials in Nevada are planning a push to equip graduating high school students with entry-level cybersecurity skills.
In 2014, the state established Learn & Earn Advanced-career Pathways (LEAP
) to encourage technology skills development in areas such as manufacturing and life sciences. A proposed new “bridge” program would expand on that effort, with an eye toward connecting industry and academia around cyberworkforce readiness.
“When you look at labor market data, the industry that is impacting all other industries is technology. With more technology there is a greater need for cybersecurity, and it is only going to continue to grow,” said Manny Lamarre, executive director of the Governor's Office of Workforce Innovation (OWINN). “We are going to need a workforce that is ready to engage in these occupations.”
The proposed program would draw up to 50 students from Clark County schools and launch them into a four-week cybercertification program at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Students would earn Network+ and Security+ certifications, which planners say would be enough to get them entry-level jobs in cyber fields.
The program is free to students: Transportation, classes and fees for the certification exams are all covered. To qualify, students need to have completed their junior year and taken at least one course in computer science, IT networking, IT service or support, or Web design and development.
The program isn’t yet official. Lamarre said he’s looking for county board approval for the effort, as well as $150,000 to $250,000 in funding from Workforce Innovations for a New Nevada (WINN
). He’s hoping to have these in place by the end of March.
By targeting high school students, planners say they are looking to create opportunities for early entry into the cyber arena.
“There are many ‘middle skills’ jobs out there, jobs that require more than a high school education but less than a college education,” said Karsten Heise, technology commercialization director in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED).
These credentials could open the door to such positions, at a time when many employers are more interested in tangible ability than in academic achievement. “Many employers have told us that even a bachelor’s or a master’s degree doesn’t mean that you will get hired or be successful in cyber. It’s the credential and the experience that are most important,” Heise said. “They have to have evidence of a concrete skill.”
The network and cybercertificates offered through UNLV are a natural fit for this entry-level push. “They are the two most fundamental industry-recognized credentials that give you the gateway that allows you to enter the field,” Lamarre said.
Ideally, those who get their start through the program will ultimately opt to further enhance their skills in the course of developing their careers.
“We envision this as the starting point for future credentials down the road,” Heise said. “For cybersecurity you need many other qualifications to advance, and so this is just the starting point. We hope that with the commitment of employers, they will engage their people in continuing education and workplace learning so that they will go back to pick up those further qualifications over time.”
The proposed bridge program depends on the success of multiple partnerships.
First there is the tie-in with the university. In this case, UNLV was selected as the most obvious launching point for early-stage cyberstudents.
“They are already engaged with the schools, they are strong in cybersecurity, and they have the instructors ready because those qualifications are part of the program they are already teaching,” Heise said. “We didn’t want to spend a long time building this, and with them it was already built and ready to go.”
At the same time, planners say they are eager to forge ties to the employers who ultimately will form the backbone of the endeavor.
From a procedural point of view, employer backing is needed to secure WINN funding. “We cannot fund any initiative where employers haven’t stated an urgent need, so we need employers to come forward to say that they need this, and then we can put this forward as a program to meet this need,” Lamarre said.
More than this, they need local businesses to engage in order to ensure that the training being offered really is best suited to the needs of potential employers. “We want them to be our partners in this,” Heise said. “We want to be sure that what we create in the pathway gives students the skills that employers really need and value. Anything we do should be for the specific benefit of the employers.”
If all goes as planned, the program should be a win-win for both employers and emerging cyberprofessionals.
For the companies, the bridge effort could generate a ready workforce at a time when labor shortages nationwide continue to plague cybersecurity leaders in government and the private sector.
For the students, the streamlined path to employment could give them a foot in the door in a field that seems only to be expanding. “They are going to end up with extremely marketable skills earlier in their career, and that starts them on a pathway that can lead to something much bigger down the road,” said Randy Walden, an industry specialist in advanced manufacturing at GOED.