Inspiring Younger Generations to Choose Cyber Careers

Posted on by Jodi Fleming

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of growth for jobs in information security is projected at 37% from 2012–2022. If these positions are to be filled with energetic, passionate employees, a desire to change the cybersecurity threat landscape should be instilled at an early age. We can do this by reaching students through organized programs focused towards these age groups. Younger generations, including students, can be inspired by showing them how cybersecurity affects their lives on a personal level. Many are not familiar with available careers or even what ‘cybersecurity’ encompasses.

So often I encounter those who misunderstand what cybersecurity is all about. I am labeled as the ‘IT person’ often in conversation and even my own children think that I just ‘work on computers all day.’ Cybersecurity is much more than installing software on a system or ensuring hardware is operating properly by managing a helpdesk. Although these areas are important to the overall technology environment, cybersecurity is something more, something different.

One way to inspire the younger generations to seek cybersecurity careers would be to develop programs that introduce and explain what cybersecurity is and what careers are available.  These programs should include examples of challenges related to cybersecurity that are relevant to the audience. For example, smaller children could be shown how a cyber-attack would affect their video game by either degrading internet service to create lag in the game or by taking the game completely offline. Young adults could be presented with how a cyber-attack may alter their social media presence in a negative way. Not securing our digital lives, isn’t an option. Presenting the possibility of these type of attacks and starting a dialogue early with children and young adults on how careers in cybersecurity can prevent and stop a cyber-attack of these types will create a focused, passionate workforce in the future.

A few programs are already being developed and the dialogue to increase cyber-awareness with students and young children is happening. Girl Scouts of the USA working in conjunction with Palo Alto Networks have developed the first-ever national Girl Scout Cybersecurity badges for girls in grades K-12. The Brownie level badge, which is one of the 18 new badges, focuses on teaching girls how computers and the internet work, and how to apply concepts of safety and protection to the technology they use every day. Two high schools, one in Maryland and one in California, have introduced programs to expose teens to the ins and outs of the cybersecurity industry.

In addition, GenCyber, a summer camp jointly developed and supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Security Agency (NSA), introduces middle- and high-school students to the basics of cybersecurity, providing mentorship and diverse role models and helping them form communities of young cybersecurity experts. All of these programs are a great start in closing the cybersecurity skills gap, but I’m not sure that they will be enough to impact the workforce shortage. The two high school programs, the summer camp and the Girl Scout program only reach a small audience. If cybersecurity is going to become a household topic, it will take more than the occasional media headline when a breach occurs or only being concerned with it when it affects you personally, such as an identity theft.

Streamlined programs that reach children on a larger scale will be needed. Perhaps creating an elective class that introduces cybersecurity would be effective. Years ago, typing courses were offered as an elective to get students familiar with typewriters and early computers. The same could be done with a focus on securing the systems and technologies that we use every day.

As an RSA Conference Scholar in 2016, I was in the final semester of my graduate degree at Penn State University focusing in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance. Being able to attend RSA Conference broadened my view of cybersecurity and enhanced the final project that I was completing. Meeting face-to-face with thought leaders in the cybersecurity arena gave me an additional perspective and insight to how cyber-attacks were shaping society at that time. I have been very successful choosing a career in cybersecurity and am passing that on to my two young girls. My young daughter is a Girl Scout Brownie working on her Cybersecurity Badge. I hope that they choose a career in cybersecurity and help to lessen the skills shortage.

Jodi Fleming

Cybersecurity Operations SME, Huntington Ingalls Industries

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