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UMaine Augusta Partners for Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program

The University of Maine at Augusta is working with the Maine Department of Labor on a cybersecurity and IT registered apprenticeship program to recruit, train or upskill employees for those fields.

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(TNS) — The University of Maine at Augusta is taking a workforce development tool long used by the trades industries and applying it to the growing information technology sector to train more workers amid a critical shortage of cybersecurity professionals.

On Thursday, the Maine Department of Labor and the University of Maine at Augusta will launch a new cybersecurity and IT registered apprenticeship program, which officials are touting as a proven recruitment and training tool for new hires and a way to "upskill" existing employees in the fast-growing cybersecurity field.

Apprenticeship programs offer young adults or people changing careers the opportunity to learn a skill or trade through paid, on-the-job training combined with classroom instruction. The state has a robust apprenticeship program spanning a broad range of industries including health care, construction, plumbing, heating/ventilation/air conditioning, welding, shipbuilding, lobstering and even funeral services.

There is boundless opportunity in the field, said Henry Felch, director of the Maine Cyber Range, a cybersecurity education hub at UMA, and a professor of cybersecurity and computer information systems.

"Every field is touched by IT and cybersecurity," he said. "Cyber attacks are increasing. Just because we live in Maine does not mean we're isolated from those attacks ... as we've become more connected, we've become more open to threats."

Maine would need to increase its number of cybersecurity professionals by 63 percent just to fill the number of current open positions. There are just over 3,150 open cybersecurity positions in Maine, and just under 5,000 currently employed in the industry, according to Cyberseek, a cybersecurity workforce analytics platform developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, IT certification provider CompTIA, and Lightcast, a labor market data firm.

The shortage is national, as well. There are about 1.1 million people working in cybersecurity across the country, but employers posted more 660,000 open positions between May 2022 and April 2023, according to Cyberseek.

Last year, employer demand for cybersecurity workers grew 2.4 times faster than the rate for all jobs across the U.S. economy and nine of the top 10 months for cybersecurity postings in the previous decade occurred in 2022, the platform reported last October.

There are tens of thousands of open positions, and they'll likely remain open for a while: Cybersecurity jobs take 21 percent longer to fill than other IT roles.

That's where an apprenticeship comes in, Felch said.

A classroom education is valuable, but it's often not enough without hands-on experience, Felch said. Internships are helpful, but the university only requires 150 hours.

An apprenticeship, where the worker is hired and paid like an employee while they learn, is the best of both worlds. The university curriculum can be tailored to what the individual employer needs out of an apprentice, he said.

And it's beneficial to the employee, too.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 93 percent of people who complete apprenticeship programs are hired by the organization they worked with, compared to 55 percent of interns. And, on average, the apprentices earn $300,000 more than their non-apprentice peers over the course of their careers.

Plus, they're less likely to incur the debt of a four-year college degree and don't have to leave the workforce to complete the education needed for the job.

The University of Maine at Augusta has a largely commuter student population, said Michele Pelletier, Maine Cyber Range Coordinator.

"Many of these students need to work, they need to earn a paycheck," she said. "This will help them get to work and be able to also get an education."

The announcement comes amid a statewide push to increase apprenticeship programs. Last year, Gov. Janet Mills announced $12.3 million in grants to more than double the number of apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship slots and programs across Maine.

Mills called the programs a "win-win" for the state. "They're a win for our working people, they're a win for employers, they're a win for our economy," she said.

This isn't the first cybersecurity apprenticeship in the state — there are currently six employer sponsors with 23 apprentices covering 12 IT and cybersecurity positions under the Department of Labor's partnership with Safal Partners, a national management consulting firm that contracts with the U.S. Department of Labor to expand registered apprenticeships for cybersecurity occupations.

But the UMA program will dramatically expand what's available.

"There's no number that can be attached to it," said Wendy Kostenbauder, Maine's apprenticeship program manager.

The college's Maine Cyber Range is nationally recognized and will draw both businesses and students, she said, and hopefully will also help keep workers in Maine.

Angela Baker, workforce development consultant for Safal, said this new program sets Maine and the university apart.

"On a national level, not many four-year universities have adopted this model," where students can earn and learn simultaneously in partnership with local companies, she said.

The university and Maine Department of Labor will launch the new program during an event at the University of Maine at Augusta Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and are encouraging employers, business leaders and students interested in learning about the program to register.

©2023 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.