Cyber Leader and Former Marine breaks down how we can recruit and train new cyber talent for this growing tech labor shortage
By Chris Starling, Assistant Vice President, NPower Skillbridge
Over the summer, the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee brought in national tech leaders to testify about the shortage of cybersecurity talent and how it has a direct impact on our national security. Congress wanted to learn what we could do as a country to confront this cybersecurity shortage we currently face.
Shortages in our cyber workforce are already leading to security vulnerabilities, productivity losses, and compliance failures. And it will inevitably impact everyone’s bottom line. We can’t wait six years to train the next generation of cyber security analysts. We need to confront this cyber war today.
I was one of those four panelists who spoke before Congress and shared cyber training strategies we’ve successfully utilized during my time with NPower – a national nonprofit that provides free tech and cyber training to young adults, veterans and their spouses.
Here’s a closer look at some of the training strategies I shared with Congress and why it could help us create a new cyber security pipeline by mid 2024.
Create Cyber Training Bootcamps
It is important to acknowledge that nobody becomes a cyber warrior overnight. However, there are sources of talent and available training programs that can speed up qualifying individuals for such roles.
I have been involved with technology education for over five years following 26 years on active duty in the military. I know a few things about training, training management, and the bootcamp model. I’ve also seen how we have young adults and military connected individuals who could constitute a viable pipeline of tech and cybersecurity talent.
With NPower, we have created a boot camp environment that trains veterans and young adults with cyber skills in as little as 18 weeks. Yes, it will take time to train future cyber warriors for deeper challenges, but not as much time and certainly not as much money as required to earn a 4-year degree.
For the last four years, my team with NPower California has recruited young adults in San Jose and Los Angeles California for 16-18 week bootcamps. This training is free of charge. It consists of 3 or 4 industry recognized certifications, social support to break down any existing barriers preventing one from passing the course, and a concurrent professional development curriculum to address the job search – such as writing a resume, posting a strong LinkedIn profile, and the finer points of professional communication.
At the end of that experience, we help to place our graduates into tech jobs. We have a success rate of well over 80 percent, and this is an approach others can duplicate.
In the case with NPower, our business model does not just “train to technology,” it improves personal and professional lives in a holistic way. It capitalizes on young adults and military connected personnel. Those who master tech fundamentals are invited to take advanced courses such as Cyber and/or Cloud.
Find New Cyber Talent in New Terrain
One of my recruiting pitches is – “if you can play War Thunder or Madden Football for 6 hours at a time, chances are, you have the ability to learn tech fundamentals and cybersecurity.” Anyone with teenage kids at home probably agrees with this.
But in seriousness, the real question is, do you have the desire and the motivation to see it through? In my experience, young adults from underserved communities and military connected personnel are prime candidates for training and job placement in the tech ecosystem. By and large, they have the right stuff to complete a tech bootcamp.
Few organizations focus simultaneously on these two categories of people. Currently serving members of the military, veterans and their spouses have worldwide experience and overcome hardships of all kinds. Young adults from tough backgrounds and communities bond with their military connected classmates. When in class together, it is important to develop teamwork and camaraderie under conditions of shared hardship – hardship of the technical, people skills, and intellectual kind.
Form Strategic Alliances with Corporate America
Without partnerships, cyber security bootcamps are nearly impossible. Partnerships in this respect means working with tech-ecosystem employers. This includes all levels of government as well as corporations.
Helping CIO’s, CISO’s, HR professionals, and especially hiring managers and recruiters to think differently is the main challenge. It may help to compare cybersecurity professionals in the same way that we view electricians and journeymen. The apprenticeship model has been proven to work for technology like it does for many other professions. Subsequently, a 4-year degree should not be a pre-requisite for a tech or cybersecurity job, especially for an entry level IT or cyber position. Instead, employers should focus more on industry recognized certifications. These better reflect the ability to execute core competencies and mission essential tasks. If we want to fast track talent into hundreds of thousands of open jobs, we cannot force each one to complete a 4-year degree. We need something faster. Ideally this would be a Tech Accelerator program that starts with the basics – tech fundamentals – and then addresses advanced subjects and certifications such as CompTIA Security + for cyber and AWS Cloud Architect for cloud computing.
Leverage Leadership Skills
Having a clear vision while educating and inspiring people on this journey is perhaps the most important recommendation. Leadership refers to the teaching and training function as well as to the job placement function. Leaders who focus energy on recruiting talent from nontraditional pathways will be able to build teams and secure their networks. Different geographic regions will have different priorities based on the kinds of businesses and specific job descriptions that need to be filled.
A young woman who was underemployed at a fast-food restaurant landed a job testing video games. A young army veteran, stuck working night shift as hospital security, found herself testing robots at Google for twice her previous salary. An Afghan interpreter with English as his fourth language reports to work at YouTube where for the first time in his life, he has medical benefits. An Army Master Sergeant retired and landed a job as a civilian at the US Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Maryland. These are but a few examples of success stories I love to share. None of them had a college degree, but that is not to say they won’t get one in the future.
But in the meantime, the tech bootcamp experience got them where they are. Clearly they have much to offer and some companies are realizing that nontraditional pathways are the best solution available to avert a cybersecurity crisis today.
About the Author
Chris Starling is Assistant Vice President with NPower SkillBridge. Chris is a retired Marine who was the NPower California Executive Director from 2019-2023. Currently he leads the new NPower SkillBridge Program focused on preparing transitioning active duty servicemembers for careers in cybersecurity. He can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org and with www.npower.org.