Cybersecurity education & Cyber workforceHelp Wanted: The Cybersecurity Workforce of the Future Starts with Students Today

By John Roach

Published 13 November 2020

Today’s critical infrastructure systems from farm fields planted with digital sensors that track soil moisture and nutrient levels to electric power grids equipped to instantly respond to digital signals about shifts in supply and demand are increasingly vulnerable to attacks that could cripple civil society, according to cybersecurity experts. Today, there are nearly 2 million U.S. job openings in the field of cybersecurity, studies indicate.

Today’s critical infrastructure systems from farm fields planted with digital sensors that track soil moisture and nutrient levels to electric power grids equipped to instantly respond to digital signals about shifts in supply and demand are increasingly vulnerable to attacks that could cripple civil society, according to cybersecurity experts.

Today, there are nearly 2 million U.S. job openings in the field of cybersecurity, studies indicate.

Cybersecurity professionals are trained to harden digital systems and protect them from unauthorized access. The shortfall of cybersecurity professionals is expected to double by 2025 as internet of things, or IoT, technologies proliferate across critical infrastructure, homes and businesses.

“More things are being cyber enabled and that creates this exponential opportunity and demand for people with cybersecurity expertise to secure those systems,” said Jerry Cochran, the chief information security officer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington. Cochran helps lead a lab-wide effort to grow the cybersecurity workforce of the future.

The initiative centers on outreach in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, educational opportunities for high school and college students in the communities surrounding PNNL. The goal is to increase the cyber talent pool and raise the profile of cybersecurity as “a really fun, cool and lucrative STEM career,” Cochran added.

Homegrown Recruits
PNNL’s cybersecurity workforce outreach efforts ramped up as both news reports of data breaches around the world and cybersecurity job postings grew, according to Ann Wright-Mockler, a senior STEM education consultant at PNNL. The news reports of incidents in a variety of sectors brought into focus the growing need for cybersecurity experts.

“A lot of the cybersecurity and computer science staff at the lab reached out to me so that we could have a better understanding of what we were all doing rather than just duplicating efforts; really trying to figure out what makes a difference rather than just doing things that are reaching the same kids,” she said.

The coordinated effort has included community awareness campaigns, teacher training programs, summer camps, staff participation in clubs and competitions, efforts to match students with mentors at the lab and lab internship programs. The outreach is specifically targeted at students in the communities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland that surround PNNL, known as the Tri-Cities.