"CYBER.ORG is committed to creating both a gender and racially diverse workforce, and employability opportunities so that all high school graduates can obtain industry cybersecurity certifications."
Kevin Nolten, Director at at CYBER.ORG
CYBER.ORG has announced new initiatives to help significantly boost cybersecurity education training and career awareness across the United States. CYBER.ORG (formerly known as NICERC) is a cybersecurity workforce development organization that targets K-12 students with cyber career awareness, curricular resources, and teacher professional development.
Despite a critical lack of qualified cybersecurity professionals in today’s workforce, investments in cybersecurity education remain modest. A recent EdWeek Research Center benchmark study shows that only 45% of K-12 students in the U.S. are currently receiving cybersecurity education and that most students are not well-informed about the educational and career requirements associated with cybersecurity employment.
“Our core mission is to ensure that every student receives cyber literacy education to help solve our cybersecurity workforce problem - which is a national security issue,” explained Kevin Nolten, Director of Academic Outreach at CYBER.ORG. “CYBER.ORG is committed to creating both a gender and racially diverse workforce, and employability opportunities so that all high school graduates can obtain industry cybersecurity certifications which are key to getting into these high demand jobs,”
The EdWeek Research Center benchmark study also shows that students from less advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds were the least likely to receive cyber education. This is why CYBER.ORG’s key mission is to ensure that cybersecurity education is available and accessible to all.
“There are many school districts in low socioeconomic areas that are not afforded the opportunities of incredible resources,” said Nolten. “We have several partners that we work with to ensure that students in low socioeconomic areas of the country are introduced to 21st century skills and provided with opportunities. Our mission is to ensure that every K12 student in the United States has a cyber education or is cyber literate.”
One of the most inspiring experiences for students is the opportunity to visit or intern at companies, experience real world scenarios and see the technologies used. However, most schools have less access to companies than, for example, a school in Palo Alto, California. However, CYBER.ORG remains focused on ensuring that opportunities are afforded to all.
“Part of the CYBER.ORG curricula utilizes platforms that the cybersecurity industry uses to train their own employees which allows students to experience cybersecurity threats in real time in a virtual environment,” stated Nolten. “So those students who don’t have the opportunity to become an intern at a Fortune 500 company still have equal access to the environments that today’s cybersecurity employees are using. That is how we begin solving the workforce problem, by providing access to the environments and tools that you would see in the real world.”
Educators often utilise ‘Education Standards’ to select a curriculum, yet there is currently no national standard specific to cybersecurity. However, CYBER.ORG has recently launched a process to develop state standards for cybersecurity education in coordination with state departments of education and stakeholders from government and industry, including CISA and Palo Alto Networks.
“When you look at the education landscape there are standards for subjects such as Math and Science,” said Nolten. “By developing a set of cybersecurity standards, CYBER.ORG is going to build on top of a set of learning objectives that will close the gap on the cyber workforce. Our vision is that cybersecurity education is treated with the same importance as Math and Science. Cybersecurity is an imperative skill that we all need no matter what area of industry students are going to pursue.”
CYBER.ORG has already trained more than 12,000 educators in delivering cyber education and is expanding access to teacher professional development through online trainings and resources. The organization understands that teachers are critical to creating an interest in cybersecurity careers, so professional development is a key component of CYBER.ORG’s strategy to building knowledge and confidence by introducing cyber education in the classroom.
“Supporting and educating teachers and providing professional development is one of CYBER.ORG’s top priorities,” explained Nolten. “We believe that teachers are the key to solving the cyber workforce gap. Enabling teachers to experience cybersecurity lessons as a student from CYBER.ORG’s team of subject matter experts has resulted in an increase in confidence for them to go back into the classroom to introduce their students to cybersecurity skills and careers.”
“Our research shows that in 7th and 8th grade students begin to make career decisions and formulate what kinds of problems they want to solve. K-12 educators are critical to solving this national security crisis and workforce challenge.”
However, in a world of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, gaming and robotics it can be a challenge to get students excited about cybersecurity - an area which, although critical to all areas of technology, happens behind the scenes.
“Research shows that this next generation of students really wants to understand the ‘why,’” said Nolten. “We really hone in on this through our content development in establishing the ‘why’ behind cybersecurity education. Whether a student is going to become a doctor, work in the oil & gas industry or work for the government, the application of cybersecurity is still going to exist creating the ‘why’ at the academic level is where we begin to get students engaged.”
However, many people in today’s cybersecurity workforce come through the university system, which is why CYBER.ORG is working closely with universities to ensure there is a route for all K-12 students who want to advance their studies in cybersecurity.
“We’ve done a number of projects around the country where we’ve worked together with universities to create a seamless pathway that allows students to go from K-12 to universities and straight into the workforce with dual enrollments,” said Nolten. “A pilot study that we did in Louisiana showed that 4 times as many students who are studying CYBER.ORGs curriculum at the high school level are going into college degree programs.”
Government departments and tech companies are getting behind CYBER.ORG’s mission to help ensure that the future U.S. workforce can help protect the U.S. from a national security standpoint. CYBER.ORG is in the early stages of a strategic partnership with Palo Alto Networks and also receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA)’s Cybersecurity Education Training Assistance Program (CETAP). CYBER.ORG would also welcome support from tech giants .
“I would love more tech companies to engage with us to help create a national movement around cybersecurity education,” said Nolten. “We have so much more work to do and the landscape needs a lot more focus and a lot more attention. I encourage companies of all sizes to ensure that corporate social outreach efforts are centered around ensuring that every student has the opportunity to obtain a cybersecurity education.”
CYBER.ORG has proven that its model for encouraging K-12 students to pursue careers in cybersecurity is highly effective through cyber career awareness, curricular resources and teacher professional development. With more than 18,000 teachers enrolled in CYBER.ORG’s free content platform, the organization is already seeing massive early success in their mission to inspire more educators, make cyber education is accessible to every student and ensure that the future workforce is cyber literate.