Connecting Underserved Communities Through Collaboration
As demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the country still lack affordable access to the internet. Without reliable broadband connection, underconnected and unconnected people face social and digital disadvantages and obstacles in accessing educational materials, economic opportunities, healthcare and other vital government and social services.
It's not just rural communities that face a digital divide. Many urban environments also struggle to access affordable and reliable internet. Such disparities further disadvantage historically marginalized communities. For example, 82 percent of historically Black colleges and universities in the U.S. are in broadband deserts, making it even more challenging for students and their family networks to access educational and employment opportunities.
Federal funding, such as that from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, has already improved the lives of those in underserved communities by offering free in-home internet programs that enable residents to pursue opportunities. Additionally, the use of virtual videoconferencing platforms post-pandemic continues to connect individuals with government and social services, ensuring that constituents can rapidly navigate resources and access assistance for basic needs.
As new funding and opportunities arise and as government leaders look to design solutions tailored to their constituents’ needs, the most successful state and local governments recognize that it takes a village to solve the multifaceted problems facing their communities. By fostering a spirit of partnership between government, community organizations and industry, and by capitalizing on the positive market outlook for government IT, there is a momentous opportunity to move the needle on workforce, cybersecurity, digital equity and beyond.
Supporting Workforce Development
In its 2022 State CIO Survey, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers identified workforce as one of the top 10 policy imperatives for state governments. As the United States continues to face a nationwide skills shortage, both the public and private sectors are increasingly prioritizing pathways to attract, upskill and reskill their workforces. Further investment in this area will allow state and local governments not only to create new opportunities for individuals but to drive economic development and job growth.
The skills gap is persistent, requiring collaboration across industry, government and nonprofit sectors. By partnering with companies to leverage existing programs that help to upskill and train workers, government leaders can work to narrow the existing skills gap in pressing areas such as cybersecurity, the Internet of Things and networking.
Such programs provide a unique opportunity to alleviate workforce pain points that state and local governments face by creating a pipeline of talented workers ready to fill open roles. Cisco Networking Academy, for example, has helped to equip over 17.5 million individuals with leading networking and cybersecurity skills since its inception 25 years ago.
Ensuring Cyber Resilience
Cybersecurity is top of mind for state and local government leaders as the U.S. faces an estimated 700,000 vacancies in cyber-related jobs.
States oversee law enforcement, transportation, utilities and our nation’s school systems, including many state-run universities with advanced research and development facilities, making the SLED space a prime target for nation-state bad actors and cybercriminals. State and local agencies are tasked with defending against cyberattacks, yet they have often gone without the resources, information and human capital needed to maintain cyber readiness at scale.
Government leadership at all levels has recognized the need to prioritize cybersecurity, and states are in various stages of planning for comprehensive, coordinated statewide security strategies following guidance from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and initial funding provided through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
By partnering with industry, governments benefit from information sharing and a vast security portfolio and can tap into resources to navigate the complexities of grant funding and financial sustainability. States are wisely adopting solutions that proactively detect emerging threats, automate actions and streamline security responses to threats and incidents.
As the security perimeter expands to include increasingly mobile workers, government IT is rolling out multifactor authentication solutions to control access to and from government-managed and nongovernment devices and connections. It also is adopting cloud-based content filtering technologies to ensure compliance with state mandates and executive orders protecting against high-risk social media applications.