No matter how you count, there’s a major shortage of cybersecurity workers in California. There are some 40,000 unfilled positions across the state, and that number is growing every day.
California’s higher education system is poised to meet that need through its 114 community colleges, 23 CSU campuses and 10 UC campuses. With so many players involved, communication and collaboration are key to making meaningful progress. Those conversations are already happening throughout the state and recently received the support of the California State Assembly.
The California Cyberhub, along with key players from education, industry and government, were brought together by the State Assembly Joint Oversight Committee for a hearing titled “Cybersecurity Education and the Needs of the Workforce.” (Video) The hearing included representatives from the University of California, California State University, California Community Colleges, California Cyberhub and National University, as well as industry partners like Cisco Systems and CompTIA.
Committee chairs Jose Medina and Jacqui Irwin called upon those stakeholders to work together to ensure that California’s students have the opportunity to pursue degrees that will prepare them for cybersecurity jobs.
Creating a pathway
A great demand exists for cybersecurity professionals in both the public and private sectors. The public sector is especially challenged because salaries can’t compete with private employers, as the committee heard from Amy Tong, California’s chief technology officer, and Mike Petit, chief information officer for Ventura County.
One way to combat that is to make students interested in cybersecurity earlier, which is already happening in several key ways across the state.
“We are creating a recruitment pipeline that starts in K-12 and continues through community college and CSU,” Tong said. “We want to help students see themselves as public servants.”
The cybersecurity education pathway may also include certifications provided through CompTIA, one of the world’s leading technology associations. James Stanger, CompTIA’s chief technology evangelist, told the committee that including certifications as part of the cybersecurity pathway ensures that students earn marketable skills in addition to an academic degree.
“Here’s how we can upskill the workforce and here’s an opportunity to meet demand,” Stanger said. “Certifications help students apply what they learn. It is all about pragmatic, practical applications of information technology.”
A robust cybersecurity curriculum will include elements of business and technology to ensure that students are able to understand and meet the needs of their future employers.
“Cybersecurity is not just a technical problem, it’s very much a business problem and our workforce needs to be trained accordingly,” Petit said.
California Cyberhub: A collaborative approach
Collaboration around cybersecurity education is also happening is through the California Cyberhub, a collaboration of public education and industry that is compiling a central library of resources and encouraging support for cybersecurity competitions around the state.
The Cyberhub brings together partners from K-12 education, higher education, government organizations and the cybersecurity industry to provide opportunities for middle and high school students to become interested in cybersecurity at an early age and begin a pathway that leads to a college degree.
Cyberhub Community Manager Donna Woods said that the earlier students become interested in cybersecurity, the more likely they are to stick with it.
“The Cyberhub offers an opportunity for everyone work together on creating the best learning experience for our students,” Woods said. “We are trying to create a better path for our students moving forward.”
The Cyberhub concept was introduced at the California Cyber Innovation Challenge held at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo over the summer. Bill Britton, the school’s CIO and vice president of information technology, said he looks forward to continuing the discussions started at that event.
“The Cyberhub is one example of a solution to this program. Now we need others,” Britton said. “There are so many things that need to get accomplished and a lot of good work going on across the board.”
While the assembly hearing was taking place, across the street, the State of Cybersecurity Education Summit was underway which brought many of those same education, industry and government leaders together for a discussion on how to shape a cybersecurity curriculum pathway that extends from middle and high school to a college degree.
“The technology community is one community,” Tong said. “You do not need to have the title of a public servant to help protect the public’s assets.”
The Joint Oversight Committee encouraged those conversations to continue, both in the area of middle and high school outreach and in the area of college transfer credit articulation. There are currently about 27,000 students who are enrolled in cybersecurity-related classes at California community colleges, but there are far fewer opportunities for them to turn those classes into the degrees employers want to see.
Moving forward, leaders from California Community Colleges, CSUs and UCs will work together to map that pathway for college students across the state.
“We were able to help the committee discover the bottleneck that we have,” said Steve Wright, Information Communication Technology sector navigator in the community college Doing What Matters program. “We received clear instructions from the committee chairs to work together and continue these conversations moving forward.”