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Government Actions Key to Building a Cyber Workforce

A digital Peace Corps may help solve a serious workplace shortage.
Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

The United States is falling short of badly needed cyber professionals in industry and the military, and the solution may require government incentives to rebuild this critical workforce. This effort must begin at the earliest levels of education and ramp up after secondary school, experts offer.

Philip O’Reilly recently completed work as chief technology officer for the Federal Group at Brocade Networks and general manager for the data center practice at Extreme Networks. He says the education system, particularly at the university level, has been reluctant to begin the development of people with these skill sets. He wants university environments to create governmental partnerships. “The government can play a pretty profound role in directing the university and academic sectors toward certain things—by maybe less stick and more carrot in terms of incentivizing universities to fast-track these programs,” he suggests.

O’Reilly suggests that another way to interest students in cyber and then transition into public sector jobs is for the federal government to provide financial incentives for study. He envisions a program similar to those that entice doctors or dentists to work for the government or serve regional needs by funding their medical school tuition. For cyber professionals, government might pay off some of their student debt or even provide full scholarship aid for earning an undergraduate degree in a cyber field with the promise to work in the public sector for a fixed number of years.

“The federal government has the opportunity to incentivize people not only to study the subject but also to go into public service—sort of like a digital Peace Corps,” he says.

DeEtte Gray, president of U.S. operations at CACI and chairwoman of the board of directors for AFCEA, points out the community colleges can be a valuable resource in this effort. “Some of the skills you’re looking for don’t necessarily require a four-year degree,” she notes. Community colleges can offer both cyber classes and cyber activities to institute and maintain interest among students. Industry already is teaming with academia on cyber education on a limited basis, and government can step up with greater efforts to promote cyber education at community colleges.

Both Gray and O’Reilly offer that fueling the cyber workforce pipeline must begin at the elementary school level and continue through middle school and high school. Math and science are the two basic educational curricula that will provide future cyber workers, and these two disciplines must be emphasized as early as possible. “We need more students to get excited about STEM education in math and science,” Gray says. “Getting children interested about going into cyber is something we have to start early on.”

One focus needs to be on teachers. Gray suggests that the government should endeavor to staff schools with teachers who have some degree of cyber education.

More ideas about staffing the cyber workforce can be found in SIGNAL Magazine’s May issue, available in print and online May 1.