Delaware Seeks to Stem the Shortage of Cybersecurity Workers

Facing a national shortage of experts able to battle the growing number of cyberthreats, Delaware's new initiative to boost its cybersecurity workforce could be a model for other states.

Only a couple of months after one of the largest data breaches in the nation’s history occurred at national retailer Target, the little state of Delware has announced a very big idea. In his State of the State speech in January, Gov. Jack Markell announced plans for the Delaware Cyber Initiative, which will bring together academia, workers and the private sector to develop a skilled and innovative cybersecurity workforce.

The shortage of skilled cybersecurity workers has become a national problem that's only growing worse as hackers and thieves become more sophisticated in how they breach networks and databases. The demand for cybersecurity workers is more than double the overall IT job market, according to Burning Glass Technologies, a workforce research firm.

Meanwhile, states and localities continue to scramble to find the tools and workers who can protect critically important government computer systems. South Carolina learned about lax cybersecurity the hard way in 2012 when hackers broke into the state’s Department of Revenue computers, exposing millions of Social Security numbers, thousands of credit card numbers and other personal information. The incident cost the state $14 million and damaged its reputation with the public. 

Delaware’s cyber initiative could prove to be a model for how states can strengthen the lack of skills and innovation in a critical field of technology and use demand for cybersecurity experts to strengthen their economies. As Ann Visalli, the state's director of the Office of Management and Budget, explained, the research and work at building better cyber tools and workers is already happening -- but at a slow pace. The governor’s initiative will accelerate that process.

Markell has proposed spending $3 million to create a partnership between the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College and private companies to create a collaborative learning and research network dedicated to cyber innovation. The initiative is part-research lab, part-workforce development and part-business park.

“There’s a significant number of jobs available for cyber graduates in the area,” said Visalli, noting that the initiative will feed a market that includes not just industry giants like Delaware’s DuPont chemical company, but also the banking and financial services sectors concentrated in Delaware due to the state’s generous tax laws. Visalli also says the project will provide state government with a pipeline to a badly needed skilled workforce.  

Many sectors of government are facing similar threats as the private sector, but the public sector is often at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting and recruiting workers with advanced technology skills.

“State government can’t keep up on its own with what’s going on in the world of technology,” said Visalli. “We think this initiative is a continued step in the direction to identify and attract top talent.”

Cybersecurity experts can expect to make as much as $15,000 more a year than IT jobs overall, according to Burning Glass. Ranking 9th in the country for overall per capita personal income, Delaware has a reputation as a state that attracts top talent. But its economy struggled last year, so finding industries that can grow will be important to the state’s economic future. 

Delaware plans to locate the cyber initiative on the site of a former Chrysler assembly plant that's now owned by the University of Delaware and is already undergoing a transformation from car factory to research park. Visalli says the park’s location is strategic -- halfway between New York City and Washington, D.C., with an adjacent Amtrak train station. It also sits on top of a major East Coast fiber optic trunk line. 

The proposed cyber facility reflects an emerging model for university business parks that can be found in a number of locations around the country, including North Carolina, Arizona and most recently, Nebraska. The idea is to put nonprofits and businesses in close proximity to academic research. Innovation and quality training happen best when people from different backgrounds (academic, research, business) can interact easily with each other. Like the location of Delaware’s cyber initiative, these business-research parks are not too urban, not too rural, but have access to good transportation and a robust fiber network. 

The state is also taking advantage of an unlikely organization, the Delaware National Guard, as a resource for the initiative. While the Guard’s  exact role hasn’t been fully articulated, the federal government is increasingly using the National Guard as a conduit to  bring federal cyber tools and resources to states. Last year, Congress introduced a bill that would have directed the Department of Defense to establish cyber and computer incident response teams composed of National Guard members from each state. The measure didn't pass, but the states of Washington and Michigan have begun tapping their Guards for help in coordinating cybersecurity activities and response.

Whether it’s Target or the CIA, hackers and cyber-terrorists are on the offensive as they go after some of the country’s major organizations in the public and private sector.  In response to the growing cyberthreats -- cyberattacks rose 14 percent in 2013, according to a report from Cisco, a technology firm -- President Obama proposed in his fiscal 2015 budget creating a $35 million cybersecurity campus that will house federal experts to respond to cyberthreats. It’s clear that the demand for innovative tools and skilled workers will continue to grow. 

This story was originally published by Governing magazine

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.
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