Insight by Dakota State University

Developing the future federal cyber workforce with Dakota State University

For agencies, getting involved early and often in recruitment is key for the cybersecurity workforce.

Bringing in the next generation of cybersecurity experts is essential for any sector of the nationwide workforce. But for the federal government, it’s particularly important to get involved in that recruitment early and often.

Current college students studying in cybersecurity and technology fields regularly look for opportunities that have a variety of responsibilities, as well as a lot of room for growth, said José-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University. DSU offers robust cybersecurity education programs and helps move cyber professionals into careers across the country.

Right now, there are tens of thousands of public sector vacancies in the cybersecurity field. That comes as agencies often struggle to recruit and retain cyber workers, especially in face of tough competition with large private sector companies. But Griffiths said it doesn’t have to be that way.

“If [students] understood the federal sector more, and understood the missions of various federal agencies, I think they’d be more mission-driven,” Griffiths said in an interview with Federal News Network. “What we’re trying to do is expose students not just to the corporate sector, but also to the government sector, so they understand the special missions that exist.”

Along with understanding mission, it’s important for cyber professionals to see the potential to develop both “hard skills,” such as those in the rapidly growing field of artificial intelligence, as well as “soft skills” — or what Griffiths said she prefers to call “power skills.”

“These are things like the ability to communicate both in written form, as well as in oral form,” she said. “Report writing becomes something that a lot of people have to do once they’re engaging in work. We also think the ability to work in teams and play your role within a team become very important.”

Dakota State University currently collaborates with several federal agencies. DSU partners with both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Army to help students learn about job opportunities at the two organizations. And DSU also runs a large CyberCorps scholarship for service program, which has placed over 100 students in public sector roles after their graduation.

To help with recruitment of cyber workers specifically to the federal workforce, Griffiths said making connections with students is essential. On campus, for example, Griffiths said large private sector companies come often to meet with students in person and encourage them to consider their job openings after they graduate.

“Typically, we don’t see a lot of [federal] agencies coming and saying, ‘here we are, we have jobs, you can have a career here and you can have a very good career,” Griffiths said. “The way to do that is for agencies to begin to connect with universities, perhaps through these educational partnership agreements. That allows us to exchange resources … and allows our faculty to go and meet people in the agencies to find out what kinds of work they’re doing, so that they can bring back practical examples to the students.”

Griffiths said she also sees a lot of room for growth and potential to diversify the cyber and tech workforce, particularly in the public sector. DSU has several options for this.

And for those already in careers, the university has launched non-credit offerings through SOAR (Strategic Outreach Agile & Responsive) for short-form courses that can be tailored to agency needs.

“We really have to encourage more young people to come in. Reaching out sooner and building the pipeline is going to be important,” Griffiths said.

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