It’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month. In this episode of the Work in Progress podcast, Mark Ouellette, program manager for the Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative (CYAI), joins me to talk about a unique learn-and-earn program that is exposing youth adults to opportunities and careers in the cybersecurity workforce.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there was a shortage of cybersecurity workers. With the increase in remote work and the increase in cyber attacks such as ransomware that need for workers has grown exponentially. Right now, there are at least 465,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the U.S., according to Cyberseek.org—a joint project of Emsi Burning Glass, CompTIA, and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education—which tracks employment in the field. Ouellette says there is a need for experts in the field from entry level upwards in every industry.

“The thing about cybersecurity is that it’s really industry-agnostic. I mean, you’re going to need cybersecurity folks in government, in schools, in banks, in hospitals now,” explains Ouellette. “If you have a problem—something all of a sudden is going haywire and you don’t know why—and you make a phone call and you have your IT help desk. Those are all cybersecurity professionals. But it’s also medical records in the hospital field, making sure that the data that you collect from all these COVID tests is secure and safe so someone doesn’t hack into it and get your data and share it.”

The need is not going away any time soon, so CYAI was created to encourage teens and young adults to enter the field and help fill some of the open roles. It’s a registered apprentice program administered by ICF, a global consulting firm which acts as an intermediary on behalf of the U.S. Department of Labor. CYAI is only in its second year with a relatively small footprint and is open to people aged 16-to-21.

“The employment and training administration within Department of Labor has funded ICF to go in and support or register 900 youth apprentices in IT and cybersecurity by 2024. As of now, we’re about 500 that we’ve been able to place. We work with high schools, community colleges, community-based groups that are saying we see a need for better training. What curriculum is out there? We help them identify curriculum,” he tells me.

“We are a bridge to combine those entities that are interested in providing training. We help them align their training to their local employer needs, we help raise awareness with employers, and then we also fund programs. We actually have money from the Department. It doesn’t cover the entire cost of an apprenticeship, but it does cover some expenses. And so, if you’re a registered apprenticeship, we do give you funds per participant.”

Ouellette says CYAI and ICF raise awareness through “capture the flag” events, so-called ethical hackathons in which young people can show their skills. “We encourage employers to come see what they’re doing, see how qualified these individuals are, and that really is a match. You see light bulbs going off with employers all the time. ‘Wow, that person has that skill? How do I get them on my team?'”

Employers range from small entrepreneurs to big companies such as IBM and Google. Depending on the part of the country and the size of the business, starting salaries range from $12 an hour to $21 an hour. “I would say the majority of them are in about the $15 range. But as you show more skills through your apprenticeship, and you’re able to demonstrate expertise in the skill, that wage goes up. So by the time you exit the apprenticeship program you’re on par with what an entry-level person in the field would be getting. Depending upon where you’re located, what actual apprenticeship you’re in, it could potentially be a six-figure salary,” he explains.

CYAI is just one of the ways teens and young adults can get exposed to cybersecurity as a career path.

“We do have some high school programs where the CTE element is training on cybersecurity and then the school district itself, because they can’t compete with wages, are hiring those young people to work in the school district to address their cybersecurity needs, their security needs. There definitely are a lot of opportunities out there,” according to Ouellette.

You can listen to the full podcast here or download it wherever you get your podcasts. And you can read more about the Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative here.

Episode 203: Mark Ouellette, Program Manager, Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative
Host and Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, editor-in-chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch, Melissa Panzer
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

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