The last several years, cybersecurity has found itself thrust into mainstream media. Hacks against the government, companies, and individuals’ personal data have almost become a daily routine. To put actual numbers behind this, 54% of companies state they have experienced one or more successful attacks that compromised their IT infrastructure. Only a third of organizations believe they are adequately equipped to manage their security. The bad news is each attack costs a company over $5 million per breach and we are going to spend $98 million globally to minimize our losses. However, the piece de resistance is the fact that these figures will more than triple the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs to 3.5 million by 2021.

This last statistic is the reason why a group of community partners led by the leadership of Scott Air Force Base founded the Midwest Cyber Center (MC2) – to help fill the hundreds, if not thousands, of openings unfilled in local government agencies and contractors annually. The base has experienced the limited availability of talent for units on base to fill critical government positions, and federal contractors are finding it difficult to fill key jobs that are created through securing government contracts. Each organization is fighting for talent and often poaches individuals from one another to fill mission-essential roles. Eventually they all lose to Corporate America, which typically pays higher salaries and offers a bit more flexibility in their work environment. At the end of the day, everyone mentioned loses, and positions remain open in a time where we really need as many apprentices and professionals in seats as possible.

Last May, with the support of the Department of Labor teams in both Illinois and Missouri, MC2 launched the third in the country, the first in their region, Cybersecurity Analyst Registered Apprenticeship Program. The apprenticeship model is a familiar concept. The program is celebrating its 80th birthday in 2018. Most of us are familiar with the idea, but in a much more traditional sense of the trades – carpenter, painter, and electrician. What most people don’t realize is there are apprenticeships for almost every career imaginable from glass blowing to dental hygiene.

There are exciting times ahead in the world of apprenticeships. The federal government has done a lot in the last few years to expand the apprenticeship model. They have funded programs like Apprenticeship USA and, most recently, created a task force appointed by the President of the United States to create a plan and expand the program. The idea is to grow even more programs and reach 5 million apprentices by 2021.

bq lquo The program focuses recruitment on three key demographics: transitioning veterans, underrepresented communities, and community college graduates. bq rquo

MC2 is committed to do its part in achieving this goal and has created a model that works. The Registered Apprenticeship is a unique, flexible training system that combines job related technical instruction with structured on-the-job learning experiences and online coursework. Apprentices start working from day one with incremental wage increases as they become more proficient on the job. They have built a foundation for hundreds of apprentices to enter the workforce over the next several years. The program focuses recruitment on three key demographics: transitioning veterans, underrepresented communities, and community college graduates. Each demographic provides an opportunity for the program, but by specifically targeting transitioning veterans, it helps fill the void in government agencies.

Most transitioning veterans maintain the “holy grail” for government work – a security clearance. A security clearance is generally always required to work for a contractor or government agency. Being cleared immediately eliminates a barrier for entry into a career in cybersecurity. With a little bit of additional training provided by MC2 and the apprenticeship program, veterans can earn while they learn and be placed in employment while they are transitioning.

A great example of how this works is Peter Luna. Peter is a former infantryman who relocated to the Scott Air Force Base area after his brother, Lieutenant Colonel George Sconyers, encouraged him to apply for the program. Peter applied, was accepted, and eventually placed in a government contract role with Eagle Technology Group. Peter started his career at the Defense Information Systems Agency as a help desk technician, but quickly proved he could do more. You can read more about Peter’s journey in Infantryman to Cyber Warrior, written by his supervisor, Ray Gluck.

Outside of government work, veterans are in high demand by corporations. Companies like Boeing, Monsanto, and Peabody Energy respect the work ethic and values of transitioning veterans. Success in a cybersecurity role requires teamwork, the ability to think fast, and the skill to handle attacks from many different angles. This is exactly why Chief Information Security Officers target their recruitment, and why companies like Fortinet have created tailored training programs, for veterans.

Demon Griffin is another example of the apprenticeship program’s success. Demon is a Platoon Sergeant in the Missouri National Guard and has served honorably for nearly 12 years. He heard about the program during his studies at Lindenwood University where he will obtain a bachelor’s degree in Cybersecurity this fall. After Demon interviewed with the team at Peabody Energy, they immediately knew he was the candidate they were looking for. Peabody’s St. Louis security office is staffed by five individuals, and four of them happen to be veterans. They are led by Brent Bettis, who still serves in the reserves.

Looking ahead, the program will continue to target more veterans like Peter and Demon. Like Eagle Technology Group and Peabody, they recognize veterans bring invaluable skills to a cybersecurity career. They believe they are an untapped resource to close the skills gap and to protect our critical infrastructure. To attract more veterans, MC2 is working to make the apprenticeship program G.I. Bill approved. This will afford veterans more benefits and employers more options to hire them. They also are establishing more partnerships with regional nonprofits focused on transitioning veterans like The Mission Continues, Hiring Our Heroes, and Warrior Transition Network. These nonprofits focus solely on aiding veterans in their transition and seek programs like the Cybersecurity Analyst Registered Apprenticeship Program to refer candidates.

There is the potential to expand the program because the clearance and vacancy challenges are not unique to the Scott Air Force Base community. There are several bases across the country looking for cleared cybersecurity talent like Colorado Springs, Colorado; San Antonio, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio. Because of the federal designation of registered apprenticeship programs, expansion into other locations is simple. Conversations have begun on a pilot program in those three communities, and funds are being requested to help each location staff and augment the apprenticeship by the end of 2018.

The federal government has also allocated over $100 million in the budget for 2018 to achieve the goals outlined by the task force. This is a major opportunity to change the way individuals find high-paying, middle skill, and advanced skill careers.

For more information on the Midwest Cyber Center, contact Tony Bryan at 618-722-5117, ext. 112 or by email at tbryan@midwestcybercenter.org.