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The Missed Opportunity in Higher Education Cybersecurity Workforce Development


Members of the Cengage Computing Product Development Team attended the Joint-IT Service Provider (JSP) Cyber-security Forum on Thursday, February 2nd, 2017, at the Pentagon in Washington D.C.


The Joint IT Service Provider is a new initiative within the Department of Defense to combine numerous IT-focused, but separate, DoD organizations with the Defense Information Systems Agency and will provide the common framework for JITSSP to manage IT services in a uniform fashion across all portions of the DoD.


Cengage’s Kristin McNary, Product Team Manager, and Amy Savino, Associate Product Manager – who both work on our IT, Networking and Cybersecurity lists – attended the Forum, which was open to all IT and Cyber-security professionals who work in the Department of Defense. It was also live-streamed to two other DoD locations beyond the Pentagon.


Kristin and Amy’s presented, “The Missed Opportunity in Higher Education Cyber-security Workforce Development,” and addressed the cyber-security labor shortage, and the disconnect between higher education and the needs of cybersecurity employers. Here’s a breakdown of their presentation:


  • Those in the cybersecurity field are all keenly aware that there is a significant labor shortage. 
    • According to Glassdoor, of the 25 highest paying U.S. jobs in 2016, technical computing jobs account for over half. 
    • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over the next ten years these fields are expected to add 1.5 million jobs.  
    • Yet the Harvey Nash KPMG CIO survey relays that 65% of companies report difficulty filling these positions. 
  • How are programs within Higher Education addressing this labor shortage with their students? 
    • We explored the disconnect between higher education and what federal employers need in this industry, along with evaluating what key institutions are excelling at when building their cyber programs. 
    • The most critical need is to target students for cybersecurity programs beyond the traditional methods of reaching out to those excelling in STEM K12 classes.  Students highly engaged in soft skills, such as communications, could be excellent targets for a cyber program as well.  Introducing cyber topics at Higher Education freshman orientation or in 101-level classes is also a great way to recruit more students for cybersecurity programs, as in most schools this topic does not arise until advanced level courses.
  • Engaging students already in cyber programs so they understand the importance of critical thinking and troubleshooting skills beyond mastering their courses and graduating.  The world of cybersecurity is quaking beneath our feet and students/those already in the workforce need to ensure that their subject knowledge maintains relevancy from one day to the next.  Our research findings show that teaching based on Bloom’s Taxonomy level learning is most effective at this; in particular, starting with foundational learning using lab simulations and building upon that knowledge through live virtual machine labs.  This builds confidence in students and allows them to understand why they are learning their assigned content instead of just focusing on passing their course.

After returning home, Amy said, “Presenting at the Pentagon was an honor. We spoke with high-ranking officials in various areas of the military along with young people working in entry-level IT Pentagon positions who aspire to move their way up within cybersecurity at the Pentagon. They also take security extremely seriously -- we had to be escorted literally everywhere!"


One audience member said she runs a programming group for girls in K12, and said she would love to see similar enthusiasm for cyber-security in those grades, and beyond. Do you think more of an emphasis is placed on computer programming in K12, and in higher education, than on cyber-security? 


What steps can institutions take to develop and offer academic programs to fill the cyber-security labor gap? How can Cengage play an active role in closing this gap?