Per Scholas: Three solutions to the cybersecurity worker shortage

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Per Scholas student works with hardware during a classroom session.
Per Scholas students gain the technical and soft skills training that make them invaluable to employers. Photo – Per Scholas

There is more public awareness about cybersecurity and yet one flaw stands out which code alone cannot solve, the shortage of skilled workers. A recent brief from Barclays and Per Scholas details the No. 1 security issue for companies and the nonprofit at the heart of three scalable training solutions.

Per Scholas offers three solutions to the cybersecurity skills gap.
Image – Barclays and Per Scholas

Defending the Digital Frontier is a look at the current landscape of cybersecurity employment in the United States and where this workforce needs to be to counter the growing threat posed by hackers. The report’s conclusion about the cybersecurity skills gap mirrors the one coming from the industry, the current pace of education cannot keep up with the demand for cybersecurity workers.

Fifty-nine percent of companies reported unfilled security positions, according to the IASCA State of Cybersecurity 2018 report, and the total number of job openings is more than 300,000. Industry experts predict between 1.5 and 2 million cybersecurity workers will be needed by 2020 to satisfy the global demand. Companies must look toward new talent pools and innovative programs that can bring this workforce to full strength.

“It’s a huge need across all sectors of our economy,” Per Scholas President and CEO Plinio Ayala said in a phone interview with WorkingNation. “Everyone in the corporate sector is understanding the need to be able to escalate and elevate their ability to thwart attacks.”

Per Scholas, which counts Barclays as a champion-level supporter, has worked closely with its corporate partners to develop free training solutions which address the skills gap and diversity gap within the technology side of their companies. At the WorkingNation Town Hall on bridging the cybersecurity skills gap, Per Scholas’ Bridgette Nelson and Barclays International Head of Cyber and Information Security Governance Wayne Kunow explained how Per Scholas partnerships work.

The Per Scholas cybersecurity training program with Barclays is one of three success stories featured in the brief. Because of its one-on-one work with its corporate partners, Per Scholas can innovate new ways to identify and train talent from underserved communities. The Barclays program, the pre-employment training center with Cognizant Technology Solutions and software training course developed with Thrive Impact Sourcing, are unique in their elements and deployment. Their result is the same, a skilled and motivated workforce.

“There is tremendous talent [in overlooked communities]. What are the characteristics these individuals bring? High levels of motivation, high levels of determination and true real grit. They bring smarts with them. What’s missing is that technical skills piece and, in some cases, career coaching,” Ayala said.

A look inside a Per Scholas classroom. Photo – Per Scholas

In 2016, Per Scholas and Barclays created a 17-week cybersecurity training program held at Per Scholas’ Brooklyn training site. It incorporates CCNA Cyber Ops certification and Cisco’s Security Curriculum as well as hands-on work at Barclays. Graduates are then offered an interview with the company for an internship or apprenticeship position. One hundred and four cybersecurity students have graduated from the program, and the classes have a greater presence of women (30 percent) and veterans (13 percent), according to Per Scholas. So far, 43 graduates have moved on to roles with Barclays.

The program was structured so that graduates not employed with Barclays have the right skills and credentials to land entry-level jobs elsewhere in New York City. With the city positioning itself to become the global hub of the cybersecurity workforce, long-term careers are within reach.

Another company in need of cybersecurity talent for its clients, Cognizant, is reaching into one of NYC’s most impoverished communities by placing its state-of-the-art training center in the South Bronx. The center opened in 2017 and provides the ideal environment for Per Scholas’ suite of information technology training programs, called Platform. The programs are condensed coding bootcamps that are adaptable to the rapidly-changing tech environment.

“That’s the beauty of the partnership. We value the ability to get that granular with the employer,” said Ayala. “All of that information helps inform our program, and we make adjustments accordingly.”

The co-branded Per Scholas and Cognizant training center. Photo: Randall Garnick/ Per Scholas

The co-branded space is a learning environment and hands-on workspace where students interact with Cognizant employees. Students not only have access to the technical skills training, but they also are immersed in the working world of Cognizant. This is where the strength of this public-private partnership comes through by providing soft skills training in leadership and workplace communication. Cognizant has plans to hire 350 of the Platform graduates to expand its operations, according to the brief.

Sometimes companies need to scale up their workforce in places far removed from the tech hubs of NYC and Silicon Valley. In Cincinnati, where there is an acute shortage of information technology workers, a Per Scholas solution is working because it created a local talent pipeline that previously did not exist. It also is creating new career pathways to better-paying jobs in information technology.

Thrive Impact Sourcing partnered with Per Scholas to create a training program for entry-level software testers and tech support workers. For a smaller company like Thrive, the quality training of Per Scholas helped them grow quickly. Thirty-seven Per Scholas hires have bolstered their ranks to 70. These workers, who were previously unemployed or underemployed, are now earning an average wage of $49,648 with benefits.

RELATED STORY: The urgent demand for cybersecurity experts

By tapping into the talent in underserved communities and individuals, Per Scholas can present companies scalable solutions that are tailored to their needs. The brief recommended that companies rethink their hiring practices to address the problem of the cybersecurity labor shortage before the next technological disruption.

According to Ayala, that means discovering talent that is more representative of their customer base, which may not have expensive college degrees. Instead of waiting for four-year colleges to create the workforce, Per Scholas has proven that its free training programs can accomplish more in a shorter timeframe.

“Solutions need to come from areas where, historically, they haven’t come from before. Being able to work with an employer and targeting a community in which these companies are not nimble enough to access. We can become a solution for more employers around the country if they can think differently about diversity and talent pipelines,” said Ayala.

To read the full report from Barclays and Per Scholas: click here.

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