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SANS Brings Cyber Reskilling, Upskilling to Maryland

The Cyber Workforce Academy - Maryland program is free for residents and supported through a state grant. It aims to help those with some or no IT background transition into better-paying cybersecurity careers.

A newspaper help-wanted ad for a cybersecurity specialist.
The SANS Institute is renewing and expanding a free cybersecurity training for Maryland residents, in a collaboration with the state. The cybersecurity training school’s Cyber Workforce Academy - Maryland program aims to help students from other careers transition into well-paying cybersecurity jobs and to recruit from demographics underrepresented in cyber.

“The last time we ran an analysis in the state [in early 2021], the average salary increase of a graduate for this program — of the students who got jobs with it — was about $20 per hour more that they were earning than when they got to the program,” Max Shuftan, SANS’ director of Mission Programs and Partnerships, told Government Technology.

This marks the third renewal of the program, which first launched in 2018 and is partially funded through the EARN Maryland program of state-funded workforce development grants.

SANS Cyber Workforce Academy programs aim to enroll residents from non-STEM fields and reskill them for careers in cyber. That could mean helping a physical therapist transition into cloud security, for example, Shuftan said.

This latest iteration of the program adds an “upskilling” track that prepares students with IT experience for moves into cybersecurity. The current cohort includes six students in the upskilling track and 14 in reskilling.

Both tracks aim to see participants graduate with Global Information Assurance Certifications (GIACs) and allow students to attend remotely and spread lessons over roughly eight weeks.

The academy provides supports to help connect students with employers but does not guarantee employment. Applications are currently open through Sept. 16.

EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS


Since 2018, 211 students have enrolled, of whom 163 graduated and gained certifications, Shuftan said. The institute follows up with students for one year after they finish the program and finds roughly 90 percent of graduates land jobs within that time.

The SANS Institute offers some job-hunting assistance, like resume reviews and mock interviews as well as introductory webinars with some employers and access to a job search platform.  

Graduates who get hired typically find jobs in-state and in D.C., although some have found employment further afield in northern Virginia. These are often Tier 1 entry-level cyber jobs or more advanced Tier 2 jobs and include roles like security analysts, information security specialists, incident response team members, and security operations center (SOC) analysts. Employers have included companies such as Booz Allen Hamilton, KPMG and GEICO, Shuftan said.

DIVERSITY EFFORTS


The Cyber Workforce Academy seeks to encourage students who are female, nonwhite, veterans or otherwise underrepresented in cybersecurity to join.

Since 2018 the academy’s enrollments have been 33 percent female and 32 percent military veterans, Shuftan said. Most recruits have been white (36 percent) or Black (also 36 percent), with Asian Americans comprising 10 percent, and Hispanic and Latino people making up 6 percent. Four percent of recruits did not disclose their races and 8 percent identified as multiracial.

SANS does not require class compositions to include any minimum percentage of enrollees from the demographics it aims to recruit, Shuftan said. Instead, the institute relies on recruitment efforts like promoting the program to community organizations that serve women, veterans and other groups.

FINDING FLEXIBILITY


The program structure has become more flexible since first launch. It debuted as an in-person six-day bootcamp, but this limited recruitment. People working, supporting families or living farther away struggled to participate.

Since then, the program has begun offering asynchronous training that students can better fit to their schedules and which they have eight weeks to complete. The pandemic also led to greater flexibility over exam deadlines, as the program had to accommodate for students and their families coming down with COVID-19 or needing to care for children at home during remote schooling, Shuftan said.

SANS also switched from running the program less frequently but with larger cohort sizes of up to 25 students to running more frequently with as few as five students.

It also added foundational courses to give students more background IT knowledge before their first technical training courses.

“A DREAM COME TRUE”


For former students like Deijah Price, the Cyber Workforce Academy made a real difference.

Price spoke to GovTech during her second week employed as part of TikTok’s global security organization, a role that she called “a dream come true.”

For Price, who has held two positions since graduating, the program’s promise of a better-paying career path has held up.

“I basically doubled my income after SANS. And then after a year working in the field, almost doubled my income again,” she said.

Before joining the Cyber Workforce Academy, Price had held customer service roles and then got deeper into technology through a software development bootcamp in 2020.

“I started off in roles that were completely outside of the realm of tech,” Price said. “I actually studied film and cinematography in school.”

In the software bootcamp, she uncovered a passion for using technology to solve problems. From there, “it seemed like cybersecurity was the perfect route for me to go,” Price said. She discovered the Cyber Workforce Academy on LinkedIn and applied, attending from August 2020 to February 2021.

She found a job three months after graduating — turning again to LinkedIn — and became a cyber risk and compliance analyst for a Maryland-based small business, before her more recent switch to TikTok.

The breadth of the curriculum prepared her for tackling a wide array of responsibilities at a small business, Price said. Although if she were to make program changes, she’d expand the Python programming offerings, given the job market’s high demand for such skills.

To the next enrollees, she advises writing themselves a reminder of why they joined and how it impacts someone they care about. Keeping this in mind will help make it easier to push through the challenges:

“The reasons why I say this is because the program is very technical — they go into a lot of different disciplines within cybersecurity — and just knowing the reason why you got into the program will help you stay the course,” Price said.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.