Cybersecurity is one of the nation’s top industries lacking skilled employees. While digital transformation widens the skills gap, our industry constantly faces setbacks as those entering the field lack the skills needed to keep up with new technologies. To bridge this divide, it’s up to our nation’s cybersecurity professionals, tech leaders and teachers to equip younger generations with the skills needed to defend our communities and our country.
Associations such as the Air Force Association (AFA) is one group dedicated to building the talent pipeline in cybersecurity. The AFA created CyberPatriot, the National Youth Cyber Education Program, to inspire K-12 students to pursue careers in cybersecurity and other STEM-related fields critical to our nation’s future. Equipped with IT-experienced coaches, volunteers, and mentors, each CyperPatriot team is trained on topics ranging from cyber ethics and online safety to navigating network security vulnerabilities on Windows and Linux operating systems to repairing vulnerable networks, and auditing and monitoring to file protections and more.
Now we know what you’re thinking – those are extremely technical tasks for middle school and high school students. However, teaching students these skills at an early age through practical application and experience is the first step to training the next generation of cybersecurity and IT professionals. Through competitions offered within the program, students are able to experience different career pathways and learn what it’s like to work with a team, much like the real-world experiences of security engineers and software developers working together for customers.
The best part of CyberPatriot? It’s fun for everyone involved! Students, mentors, volunteers and coaches alike are continuously drawn to this high-energy program and its competitive nature. In fact, for more than six years, Carolina Advanced Digital has supported local CyberPatriot teams from Green Hope High School, the Black Falcons.
Jennifer Minella, VP of Engineering and CISO Consulting at Carolina Advanced Digital, has shared her time, knowledge and skills with the Black Falcons in an effort to get students interested in cybersecurity and STEM careers. Carolina Advanced Digital has donated equipment to the Black Falcons, enabling students to practice using computers and hardware equipped with Cisco and Linux programs that are incorporated into the competition. The company has also hosted local Capture The Flag events in Cary, NC, where teams of students compete against each other to locate another teams ‘flag,’ which could be a snippet of code, a file, or a piece of hardware on a network.
Most importantly, Carolina Advanced Digital has established meaningful relationships with each member of the Black Falcons. Many of the students have presented sessions at and attended the company’s annual IT Hot Topics Conference, which allows them to network with security professionals and expand their knowledge on topics like InfoSec, Wi-Fi, and digital transformation. Through these interactions and experiences, students can explore firsthand the topics and careers they are interested in. The Black Falcons have produced dozens of cybersecurity professionals over the years, two of which went on to work for the National Security Agency (NSA). If we want to bridge the talent gap, we must continue to support programs that are designed to encourage younger generations to pursue careers in cybersecurity and STEM-related fields. Help us get students excited about cyber! Become an active participant in training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals and volunteer your time, resources and knowledge to a CyberPatriot chapter near you. Visit the U.S. CyberPatriot website to learn how you can help build the talent pipeline.