Expanding cybersecurity education, enhancing collaboration in academia and industry, and increasing awareness about career opportunities in Colorado Springs were solutions suggested by a cyber panel Nov. 10 at Catalyst Campus concerning the 1,200 unfilled cybersecurity positions in the city.
During the Cybersecurity Workforce Development Forum, a panel of representatives from Pikes Peak Community College, the National Cybersecurity Center and Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance chimed in on how to close the growing gap, with the number of jobs in industry outpacing the number of individuals qualified to fill them.
The ever-growing field is both high-demand and lucrative — with the average salary for a certified professional starting at $60,000.
As discussed at the forum, education, culture and skills must align. The region’s educational institutions need to develop short-term and long-term solutions to build workforce-ready expertise.
EXTENDING DEGREE PROGRAMS
Although Pikes Peak Community College doesn’t offer a cybersecurity degree, the school provides a certificate program and is in the process of designing a full associate degree, said Debbie Sagen, vice president of workforce development at PPCC.
The college is also working with the cybersecurity firm and training academy SecureSet to offer non-credit prep classes about Network and Security+ to help develop a skilled workforce.
“We have 16 students enrolled, and all of them are eager to come and work for companies once they’re certified,” she said.
The school enrolls about 20,000 students a year. This fall, more than 500 students declared a major in computer information systems, computer science or computer networking technology. However, only 18 are enrolled in the school’s cybersecurity certificate program.
“Right now there is only one class students can take. … We’re restricted by the qualifications of instructors we can hire because frankly, they can make more [money] in industry than they can at PPCC,” Sagen said. “That makes it hard to find talent to come and teach for us to get students prepared to go to work for you.”
But the college is focused on a multi-faceted strategy, she said, to address companies’ needs.
PPCC has signed agreements with local high schools to offer the first four classes of its computer networking technology degree program, allowing students to receive academic credit and advance through the first semester of an associate of applied science degree.
“We’re trying several ways to help in the short-run, and then build the pipeline and right degree programs for the long-haul,” Sagen said.
Through the Colorado First & Existing Industry grant program, PPCC is able to offer customized training to local employees, providing them $1,000 to $1,200 to receive on-site cybersecurity training.
“We can teach the training at your company, on our campus or the company can teach an employee, using the grant funds which buys down the cost of that program tremendously,” she said.
At Coalfire Systems Inc., a Denver-based cyber risk consulting firm, about 75 percent of its employees are categorized as cybersecurity professionals, said Valerie Rector, vice president of talent acquisition.
And the company has more work than staff to meet the demand, Rector said.
“I’m constantly behind the eightball trying to be able to fulfill the needs of our clients, to keep up with the demand,” she said. “About 33 percent of our employees are referred from other employees — and we’re really proud — but we have to really take care of our people, engaging with surveys and listening to what’s important to them.”
So the company has taken a different approach. Beginning Jan. 1, the company will begin offering employees unlimited paid time off, Rector said.
“We have to get aggressive in the marketplace around things like flexible work arrangement, unlimited paid time off, better health care and tuition reimbursement,” she said.
Ed Rios, CEO of the National Cybersecurity Center, said Colorado Springs needs to find an accelerator model to allow startups and entrepreneurs to put a stake in the ground.
“Catalyst Campus is doing that, the NCC hopes to empower that, and education and companies are going to help foster that,” he said, “We need to find a way to make that fertile ground for our entrepreneurs.”
The challenge is capital, Rios said.
“You visit Denver, Aspen, California and Texas, and there is a lot of venture capital, but not in Colorado Springs,” he said. “We need to figure out what it is to get that VC investment to help those startups.”
Army Reserve Col. Scott Nelson, vice president of program operations for SecureSet, said there is a place for Catalyst Campus, UCCS and Pikes Peak Community College — but they need to figure out how to work together even better than they are now.
“That’s where I think the NCC provides an incredible opportunity for us in the community to find that leadership role and bring partners together in academia, the private sector, public sector and understand each other’s needs,” he said.
Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer at the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, said talent, including in information technology, is very open to coming to Colorado Springs, they’re just not aware of all it has to offer.
“We had a firm do some survey work with companies and talent around the country and the image nationally in Colorado Springs is actually pretty good,” he said. “It’s how do we make that connection of getting people to really look at Colorado Springs?”
Merritt said the RBA is looking at different tools and programs to strengthen the connection.
“Once they understand the breadth of opportunities that exist here, that’s something that would be attractive to them,” he said. “Cybersecurity is open, vast and growing. Anyone starting out in the field is quickly going to have opportunities to advance their career up many levels.”
According to Sagen, PPCC stays current in cybersecurity through business advisory councils.
“We can bring them into class on the fly to talk about the latest security threats or paint a new scenario that our students can work through in a lab situation,” she said. “We respond to the needs of our business advisory council and bring new material into the classroom all of the time.”