DHS turns to mentors to strengthen cyber workforce

The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) is trying to promote cyber skills across several disciplines.

To combat the long-time problem of finding qualified cybersecurity workers, agencies are going down a different path.

“Most agencies and businesses are starting to adopt mentorship programs,” said Robin “Montana” Williams, director of the National Cybersecurity Education and Awareness office at the Department of Homeland Security, at the Cyberforce Summit in Arlington, Va. Thursday.

DHS has a rotation and mentorship strategy. An individual is assigned a mentor and rotates assignments throughout the entire agency.

“In the end you want to have leaders with an expansive knowledge,” he said, adding they’re working towards rotations with other agencies and even the private sector.

Williams said employees would continue to receive their pay and benefits from their agency while on an external rotation.

Having the skills to tackle the latest threats means ongoing training. Williams said the military uses simulated training in a “range environment” where cyber warriors can test their skills and be evaluated.

He said universities are starting to implement this method but most civilian agencies have not. Constant evaluation is key to raising the bar, Williams said.

Cyber professionals have traditionally received certifications in a classroom setting without any test to verify mastery of the skill set.

To that end, new cyber professionals are popping up in unlikely places, as cybersecurity works its way into the main curriculum of some schools.

It’s not just technical knowledge they receive. High school students are getting practical advice such as how to behave on social media and how to build a resume around skills rather than degrees.

Even elementary school students are learning cybersecurity awareness and cyber hygiene as part of President Barack Obama’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE).

“We’re looking for teachers or schools who are open to taking their education curriculum to the next level,” Williams said.

By integrating cyber education into existing curriculum in high schools, they’re reaching young people who may never consider a STEM career otherwise.

Williams said cybersecurity can be part of physics, civics, biology — almost any subject — because it transcends all aspects of our lives.

“This is an exploding profession that’s at the cusp of really becoming one of the dominant careers in the United States,” said Williams.

He said as young people get older they see the real opportunities for landing a job in cybersecurity and that drives STEM education.

Agencies are looking for skills. Williams said too many job seekers focus on the degree when the skills he brings to the table are more important.

He said the key to getting a government job is to match your skill set with the ones listed in the job posting. Then, build your resume to showcase your skills.

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