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White House seeks to plug cybersecurity job hole

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President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting about cybersecurity in the East Room of the White House on August 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting about cybersecurity in the White House on August 25, 2021. Drew Angerer via Getty Images

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The White House today held a cybersecurity summit with business leaders in the tech, finance and energy sectors, in what was described as a “call to action” for the private sector to shore up its cyber defenses of vital infrastructure and services.

Hackers have stepped up attacks against a broad range of targets recently — from meat processors and Microsoft to local governments and the Colonial Pipeline. The Biden administration is now looking to industry to partner on strategies to combat the threat, which requires many more cybersecurity workers.

The Commerce Department estimates there are about 500,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs across the economy.

The need for cybersecurity skills is only going to grow, but the U.S. is already lagging behind, according to James Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We haven’t mentally adjusted to the fact that everything we do is now pretty much done on the internet, your car, your work, your refrigerator,” Lewis said.

Right now, the majority of cybersecurity jobs require a four-year degree in computer science, and that’s a problem, said Ambareen Siraj, a professor at Tennessee Tech University.

“The pipeline problem in cyber roots back to the pipeline problem in computer science because computer science is still not a is not widely accessible to students in K-12,” Siraj said.

To meet the scale of the demand for cybersecurity skills, we need to be considering creative alternatives to the classic college pathway into the profession, said Todd Thibodeaux with the Computing Technology Industry Association.

“The idea is that we can have people come through community college programs, through for-profit university programs, through online university programs, which accelerate this process,” Thibodeaux said.

His organization offers certification programs that can be completed in a matter of months, and tech companies are also leaning into the problem. Take Dell Technologies, which works with high schools to offer hands-on education in computer science and cyber security, said John Scimone, senior vice president and chief security officer at the company.

“Just a few weeks ago, I was engaging with high school students, trying to break some of the misperceptions around the industry — [that it] is only for highly technical people or the industry is hard to break into, demystifying it,” Scimone said.

It’s a good time to recruit mid-career professionals, too — many have quit their jobs and are looking for a change due to the pandemic.

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