CISA awards $2 million to expand cybersecurity training in underserved communities

Date: 2021-10-21T14:48:38+00:00

Location: therecord.media

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) announced Wednesday that it has awarded $2 million to two organizations, NPower and CyberWarrior Foundation, to develop and deliver cybersecurity workforce training programs aimed at underserved communities—including rural areas, minority populations, the under- or unemployed, and among veterans. 

“Addressing the cyber workforce shortage requires us to proactively seek out, find, and foster prospective talent from nontraditional places,” CISA Director Jen Easterly said in an agency press release. “We’re best positioned to solve the cyber challenges facing our nation when we have a diverse range of thought bringing every perspective to the problem.”

The agency will collaborate with NPower and CyberWarrior over a three-year pilot program, aiming to develop a scalable model to address the shortage of cybersecurity talent amidst a shortage of personnel while global cybersecurity threats rise. According to the press release, the project hopes to: 

Develop and implement a comprehensive cybersecurity pathways retention strategy;
Deliver entry-level cybersecurity training through innovative training hubs;
Provide hands-on and professional development experience through apprenticeships; and
Decrease the cybersecurity workforce shortage by placing talented individuals into entry-level cybersecurity jobs.

NPower is a nonprofit organization focused on technical skills training for young adults and veterans with an emphasis on racial and gender equity. It currently operates in seven U.S. states and offers several training models, including apprenticeship programs. 

The CISA funding would allow it to expand the reach of its cybersecurity training across the country, Bertina Ceccarelli, CEO of NPower said in the press release.

“This is particularly important for individuals coming from underrepresented communities that systemically lack access to those specialized skills,” she added. 

CyberWarrior Foundation is a nonprofit that facilitates training of the curriculum developed by CyberWarrior Academy to underserved communities, including a 28-week boot camp program. The foundation has been active since 2018, recruiting and supporting members of those communities as they access the training, CyberWarrior Academy Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Edwards told The Record. 

The bootcamp includes four-hour evening lectures five days a week, plus enrollees must also study and prepare for sessions and often are also holding down day jobs, according to Edwards. The foundation’s support once people are enrolled in the program may include connecting them to other programs for financial literacy or child care assistance, he said. 

“It takes discipline and having a network of organizations that can help them persist is important,” he added. Those who complete the program learn in-demand technical skills and earn professional certifications, including from EC-Council and CompTIA, that can make them more attractive to potential employers, Edwards said. 

And potential employers are on the lookout due to a persistent private and public sector cybersecurity skills crisis. The awards to NPower and CyberWarrior Foundation represent a new kind of partnership for CISA to address that crisis, but the agency has also sought to broaden the talent pool through previous education programs and campaigns—including with the Girl Scouts

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes CISA, is also set to roll out a new Cybersecurity Talent Management System in November that is aimed at recruiting more talent into the agency. 

Andrea (they/them) is senior policy correspondent at The Record and a longtime cybersecurity journalist who cut their teeth covering technology policy ThinkProgress (RIP), then The Washington Post from 2013 through 2016, before doing deep dive public records investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and American Oversight. Their work has also been published at Slate, Politico, The Daily Beast, Ars Technica, Protocol, and other outlets. Peterson also produces independent creative projects under their Plain Great Productions brand and can generally be found online as kansasalps.