Cybersecurity Grants That Change People's Lives

Federal Program Funds InfoSec Training for the Unemployed
Cybersecurity Grants That Change People's Lives
Vice Present Joe Biden greets Gary Pollard and Ginny Quillen.

The Obama administration put a face - actually two faces - on a nearly half-billion-dollar program aimed, in part, at providing cybersecurity skills to the unemployed.

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When Vice President Joe Biden and two cabinet secretaries, Thomas Perez of Labor and Arnie Duncan of Education, unveiled the grants to nearly 270 community colleges working with 400 employers at a White House ceremony on Sept. 29, they recognized two individuals who benefited from an earlier round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training competitive grant program known as TAACCCT.

Gary Pollard, a former Army medic who was laid off during the Great Recession, is starting a $60,000-a-year job this week because of cybersecurity training funded by TAACCCT that he received at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland.

"In a matter of two years, I went from having a limited set of skills, to unemployed, to now becoming a part of an educated workforce with a set of skills that are in high demand," Pollard said at the White House event.

Ginny Quillen is getting a second chance, too. After a history of past drug abuse that resulted in jail time, the single mom eventually earned a business degree, but still couldn't find a job as bills mounted and the bank threatened foreclosure. "In a saturated job market, with so many people vying for employment, I felt disadvantaged at the hiring table because of unique challenges of my past," she said. "I realized I needed different careers skills to move forward."

Quillen also enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College, where she received an information assurance and security certificate that led to a job. "I love this career," she said. "I hope the funding continues; I do. I hope it continues to be available for others because I know the change it made in my life."

In-Demand Jobs

The latest round of grants will provide community colleges and other eligible institutions of higher education with funds to partner with employers to expand and improve their ability to deliver education and career training programs that will help job seekers get the skills they need for in-demand jobs in industries, including cybersecurity, information technology, health care, energy and advanced manufacturing.

"No one receives a TAACCCT grant without putting industry partnerships front-and-center," Perez said in a White House blog that coincided with the announcement. "The idea is to align curriculum with the needs of businesses - so ready-to-work Americans can move right into ready-to-be-filled jobs. When employers go to hire graduates of these programs, they can have confidence in the relevance of the credential ... because they helped design the credential.

Though the administration didn't break down how much of the $450 million would be earmarked specifically for cybersecurity training, a significant portion of the grants will aid IT security programs. According to the Labor Department, 25 grantees are developing new training programs for information technology and cybersecurity jobs, which are growing two times the national average. These programs, developed in partnership with employers such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Booz Allen and SpaceX, should help alleviate the projected national shortage of IT workers, according to the Labor Department. There will be 1.4 million additional IT jobs created by 2020, but only 400,000 computer science graduates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Quick Turnaround

Franklin Reeder, co-founder and board member of the Center for Internet Security, who has researched the IT security skills shortage, says it makes sense to funnel money to community colleges, which are performing an increasingly important role in developing cybersecurity talent.

"Community colleges have the distinct advantages of being flexible, well-grounded in the vocational needs of the areas in which they operate, and having a quick turnaround time," Reeder says. "By partnering with private companies where students can gain immediate practical experience, the value of their education is increased exponentially."

Diana Burley, professor of human and organizational learning at George Washington University, says linking employers to community colleges is crucial for the program's success.

"This locally based effort increases the likelihood that training will meet industry needs and newly trained workers will be able to enter the workforce upon program completion," says Burley, who conducts research on the IT security profession. "It reduces the chance of a digital workforce mismatch - where potential participants receive workforce training that is not aligned with regional industry workforce needs."

Reeder, however, says he would not have limited the partnering requirement to businesses. "NGOs (nongovernment organizations) and government agencies offer equally rich environments in which students can observe and then apply their learnings."

Building Partnerships

The government awarded nearly $15 million to 14 Maryland community colleges, including $5 million to Montgomery College in suburban Washington, which will lead the consortium of colleges focused on training for cybersecurity and information technology jobs. The colleges will partner with area employer including IBM, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Rockwell Collins, Booz Allen, MedStar and a number of hospitals to develop training programs for low-income workers with minimal prior education or experience in IT or cybersecurity.

According to Montgomery College, students will have the opportunity to enroll in a two-year degree program that is aligned with National Security Agency guidelines for security and information assurance programs. The program will offer what it describes as virtual internships that would increase their interaction with employers. Montgomery College says the program hopes to graduate nearly 2,000 students in the next three years, with employer partners committed to interviewing qualified graduates for jobs.

How significant is the skills shortage? In Maryland alone, according to Montgomery College, 20,000 cyber jobs remain vacant. With its proximity to Washington, Maryland hosts a number of federal government agencies, including the NSA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as a number government contractors, businesses and local and state governments that need IT security help.

Among other institutions receiving cyber-related grants are the University of Hawaii's Maui College, Wayne County Community College District in Michigan, Kentucky Consortium for Information Job Pathway in Computer and Medical Fields, Texas Manufacturing and Electronics Technology Program for Veterans and New Ivy Tech Computing and Informatics School in Indiana.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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