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AT&T, NOVA Partner on National Security Workforce Training

AT&T and Northern Virginia Community College are partnering on a two-year, on-the-job IT skill-building and mentorship program to fulfill a growing need for qualified candidates in national security.

Cybersecurity worker
As work in both the public and private sectors becomes more tech-integrated, employers need additional IT staff for entry-level tech support and managing growing networks with new cybersecurity vulnerabilities. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations in information technology are expected to grow more than 10 percent, and 30 percent in information security, by 2029.

With governments fighting what appears to be an uphill battle against cyber crimes, federal agencies tasked with maintaining national security have struggled to find qualified applicants to fill open IT positions. To help, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and AT&T have created a new two-year IT apprenticeship program offering on-the-job training for entry-level IT positions in national security.

According to a news release this week, the program will provide experience working part time with AT&T, in addition to training courses held at NOVA and AT&T’s facility in Oakton, Va. Program graduates with 2,000 hours of training in technical skills and lab work will gain certifications for IT technical, operational, program and asset management, in addition to security clearance for national security-related IT work.

Jill Singer, vice president of defense and national security at AT&T, said the NOVA partnership will act as an extension of AT&T’s existing IT workforce training initiative, AT&T Catapult, established in 2019 at Howard Community College in Maryland to prepare trainees for government tech careers.

“We’ve seen success with AT&T Catapult at Howard Community College and believe this new program will build on that success,” she said. “With NOVA, we’re offering opportunities for students that might not otherwise be available to them — while creating an accelerated path to match trained and skilled IT talent to the needs of our federal agency customers.”

Community colleges throughout the country have played a major role in establishing similar IT workforce initiatives centered on tech certification courses and training. Most of these initiatives have tried to narrow IT skill gaps as job openings have outpaced qualified applicants.

While accelerated IT skill-building programs continue sprouting up elsewhere, Singer said AT&T’s hands-on training can cut government IT workforce development costs. She said the program could include additional courses to meet changing IT workforce demands in the years ahead.

“The uniqueness of this program is the on-the-job training and mentoring,” she noted. “It is tailored to help ensure a successful match of skills and expectations as the employee enters the AT&T workforce and the federal contracting environment full time.

“The program will be evaluated annually to determine if additional training curriculums, or tracks, should be added to match critical positions across multiple contracts and federal agencies.”

Last year marked a record-breaking year for cyber attacks against K-12 schools, as the public sector grappled with an increase in ransomware, phishing and other cyber threats that kept IT security personnel more than busy in 2020.

Singer pointed to a recent report from the nonprofit trade association CompTIA, noting employers posted an average of 850,000 IT staff openings quarterly in 2020. According to the report, IT occupations are expected to grow twice as much as in other sectors over the next decade.

The story is much the same in Northern Virginia, according to research from the labor market consultant Chmura Economics that projects a regional need to fill 11,000 IT jobs. AT&T’s news release pointed to job postings compiled by Burning Glass Technologies as evidence that many of these entry-level positions, and others in federal agencies, demand high-level security clearances and specialized skill sets.

Steven Partridge, NOVA’s vice president of strategy, research and workforce innovation, said the partnership aims to meet these needs and reverse trends threatening to widen the IT workforce gap. He said building the region’s tech talent pipeline is “crucial” in meeting the IT needs of today.

“Information technology jobs in our region are projected to grow, on average, 1.5 percent each year over the next decade — three times the regional average for all jobs — and we currently have more information technology jobs open in Northern Virginia than people qualified to fill these critical roles,” he said in a public statement.

The program will take applications from Aug. 26 to Sept. 23 for classes set to begin in January 2022. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, American citizens and Virginia residents to register.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.