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Addressing the Cybersecurity Workforce Shortage: Educational Pathways and Stackable Credentials

By Angela Orebaugh, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Director of Cybersecurity and IT Programs, University of Virginia

Angela Orebaugh, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Director of Cybersecurity and IT Programs, University of Virginia

The ongoing digital revolution is continuing to create a substantial need for cybersecurity to protect critical assets and personal information.  Networks and data are at risk of compromise due to the lack of staff proactively securing organizational computing assets. The market need for cybersecurity professionals is well documented, including the unprecedented demand for cybersecurity professionals as shown by the following studies:

• A Stanford University study estimated 209,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S., up 74 percent over the past 5 years, and a 53 percent growth in demand for cybersecurity professionals by 2018;

• Cisco warns that the worldwide shortage of cybersecurity professionals has exceeded one million;

• In the 2015 (ISC)2 global workforce study, 62 percent of companies stated that they don’t have enough cybersecurity professionals, an increase from 56percentin 2013, attributed to the insufficient pool of suitable cybersecurity candidates;

• Frost & Sullivan project the cybersecurity workforce shortage to reach 1.5 million by 2020;

• The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the information security analysts’ employment growth rate to be 36.5 percent from 2012 to 2022, making it the fastest growing occupation in the computer and math occupations group.

To respond to the cybersecurity workforce shortage, many state and local governments are creating strategic initiatives to invest in cybersecurity education. Secondary schools, community colleges, and universities are coming together to create educational opportunities in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity educational pathways and stackable credentials are key to creating a pipeline of diverse cybersecurity professionals to address current and future industry needs. 

Educational pathways offer a variety of learning opportunities from secondary to post-secondary institutions.  The pathways offer innovative programs with in-classroom, online, and blended learning opportunities. Cybersecurity educational pathways advance students’ knowledge of cybersecurity across a spectrum of skill levels by incorporating multiple entry and exit points and stackable credentials to prepare students for careers in cybersecurity. Multiple entry and exit points, and stackable credentials allow students with diverse backgrounds and education to tailor their learning to their needs.  Some example cybersecurity pathway learning opportunities include:

• A semester long, online, pre-college cybersecurity course designed for high school seniors to learn the foundations of cybersecurity and career opportunities. This course can count as college credit.
• An Associates degree in Cybersecurity at a community college for students wanting a work-ready skillset for technician roles.
• An online Bachelor’s degree with a focus in cybersecurity for students wanting to complete their Bachelor’s and enter the workforce in analyst roles.
• An undergraduate certificate in cybersecurity for students who interested in adding cybersecurity skillsets to their credentials.
• A graduate certificate in cybersecurity for students with a Bachelor’s degree who are interested in adding cybersecurity credentials.
• A Master’s degree in Cybersecurity for students wanting to advance their career and enter management roles.

The diverse options and multiple entry and exit points along the cybersecurity pathway enable students from a variety of backgrounds to learn cybersecurity and obtain credentials.Students with or without degrees, students with degrees in unrelated fields, military personnel, and lifelong learners can all benefit from the cybersecurity educational pathway.

Cybersecurity educational pathways increase the quantity of qualified cybersecurity professionals in the workforce by developing and strengthening pathways from secondary schools to cybersecurity curricula at the college level. To be successful, cybersecurity educational pathways rely on strong partnerships between schools. Secondary, community, and four-year colleges and universities should work together to provide seamless integration of the pathway and to identify gaps in the pathway. It is also important for cybersecurity educational pathways to have strong partnerships with industry to provide career mentoring and employment opportunities.

Cybersecurity educational pathways prepare students for the 21stcentury workforce to combat emerging cybersecurity threats and attacks and to meet dynamic industry needs. With multiple entry and exit points, the cybersecurity educational pathway provides the ability to reduce the cybersecurity workforce shortage across a variety of skill levels including entry, mid, and senior level skills.

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