Oct 30 2017

States Tap Veterans, Retirees to Build a Stronger Cyber Workforce

The cyber skills gap is growing, but offering training, scholarships and internships to the right populations can help.

Cyberthreats continue to be top of mind for state and local governments exasperated by the issues many have with sourcing and maintaining IT talent. In fact, 93 percent of state and local CIOs say that they need more cybersecurity workers, according to a survey by the Center for Digital Government, while 40 percent of government officials and personnel cite a skills gap as a main barrier to larger tech expansions, according to a study released this month by CompTIA.

To bridge these gaps, some creative localities are tapping new sources of talent, such as veterans and retirees.

San Jose Closes Cyber Skills Gap with Silicon Valley Retirees

To boost its IT workforce, San Jose, Calif., has teamed up with an organization, Encore.org, that seeks to return retired IT experts from the private sector and nearby Silicon Valley to the workforce.

“We have ex-executives from Cisco and Intel, people who bring a private-sector lens,” the city’s Chief Innovation Officer Shireen Santosham told Government Technology. “They help us to rebuild our IT infrastructure, to think about our service strategy. It’s also an engagement tool: By having these folks do a year in government, they then can go back into the community and talk about their experiences and hopefully inspire more folks to come back and work in government.”

Khanh Russo, director of strategic partnerships and innovation for the mayor’s office, tells the site that private-sector retirees understand product development and management different from government employees, making them a valuable resource.

“They know how to make it scalable and repeatable. User testing and surveys just come naturally,” he says.

States Look to Veterans to Bolster Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity talent shortages across the country are expected to reach 1.5 million by 2020 according to a 2015 study, and competition with the private sector is making it more difficult for local governments to fill these positions.

For this reason, many states are turning to veterans to fill these gaps.

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is bullish on technology initiatives, recently launched a project called Cyber Vets Virginia, which provides veterans with cybersecurity training opportunities and resources. It’s an attempt to fill an estimated 17,000 cybersecurity vacancies.

The program is made possible through the commonwealth’s partnerships with Cisco Systems, Fortinet, Onward to Opportunity, Palo Alto Networks and others.

“Cybersecurity is a key pillar in the new Virginia economy and filling the cyber workforce pipeline is critical to sustaining long-term industry growth in the future,” said Virginia’s Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson in a press release on the launch of the program.

And Virginia isn’t alone. In Washington, the state is offering veterans scholarships for cybersecurity degrees through its partnership with the University of Washington and the Washington International Trade Association, Government Technology reports. The aim is to offer veterans the opportunity to retrain themselves for cybersecurity work in both the public and private sectors.

“Our veterans make great employees because they understand discipline and technology they’ve learned in the military,” Washington Chief Information Security Officer Agnes Kirk told Government Technology.

Colorado has launched a paid internship program for veterans who already have cybersecurity backgrounds. The Veterans Transition Program, made possible through a partnership with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and other organizations, looks to help veterans transition to a cybersecurity career after serving in the military.

With a greater work-life balance offered to veterans in the public sector, local government jobs are often good fits for them, Deborah Blyth, CISO of the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology, told Government Technology.

They are great candidates to come to state governments. These are individuals who like to be in positions where they feel like they’re making an impact and don’t want to move around. They are coming out of the military with skills and knowledge that translate to my environment, but their resume doesn’t draw that line of distinction,” she said. “I think they’re a perfect fit, and I can train them in the pieces that are unique to my environment.”

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