UPDATED 13:01 EDT / OCTOBER 09 2020


The cybersecurity skills gap: California educates the workforce of the future

California is a beacon for global innovation, home of Silicon Valley and a center for space tech. Its economy outpaces many nations, beating both the Russian Federation and Italy for gross domestic product. Big name enterprise players, the U.S. military, and government all vie for top talent; and there isn’t enough to go around.

“There’s over 37,000 vacancies that we know of in California just alone in cybersecurity,” said Stewart Knox (pictured), undersecretary at the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

And demand is forecast to grow. As aerospace innovators break business free of the confines of gravity, the need to secure satellites and space-based operations is going to boom.

Knox spoke with John Furrier, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, during the Space & Cybersecurity Symposium. They discussed how California is addressing the skills gap in cybersecurity. (* Disclosure below.)

The right age to begin technology training

Making sure California has a diverse, skilled workforce ready to fill industry demand is the job of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

“We want to take people from that point in time where they sit today and try to give them that exposure … to a system for which there are jobs that pay well with benefit packages with companies that care about their employees,” Knox said.

Prepping a workforce with future skills starts with technological training. What’s the right age for technology training to begin? Kindergarten, according to Knox. Courses ideally would continue seamlessly through 12th grade and beyond.

“It’s also looking at how the community college system links to [K through 12], and then the university system links above and beyond,” Knox said.

This continuum of tech exposure allows students to explore different areas and discover where their talents lie. It could also reduce the time spent in further education, with students ready to join the workforce after two or four years of post-secondary specialization rather than the five to six years employees currently demand.

“Many times when we’ve had conversations with employers around what their skills needs were … someone coming out of the community college system could meet those skill sets,” Knox said.

Creating the flow from high school to college and on into skilled employment relies on collaboration between education and business, according to Knox. “That connection with those employers is such a key component,” he said.

Building internships and on-the-job training into the educational design, where all students are exposed to opportunities in the space and cybersecurity fields, could solve the cyberspace workforce gap.

“I think that right there alone will start to solve a problem of having 37,000 openings at any one time in California,” Knox said. “It’s that exposure that the employee gets through training programs and acknowledging those skill sets and where their opportunities are is what’s valid and important.”

Re-skilling for cybersecurity is an opportunity at any age

School-age children may be the future of cybersecurity, but those 37,000 jobs are open now. And no matter how smart, kindergartners aren’t going to fill them. Re-skilling people in middle-level jobs for better paying, more stable cybersecurity jobs is a win-win, especially now that COVID-19 has increased unemployment and made previously secure lines of work unstable.

One of the key components the Labor and Workforce Development Agency monitors is which industries are in growth mode and which are in decline. For the past seven to eight years, almost all California industries have been growing.

“Now COVID has changed that greatly,” Knox said. “Our landscape is completely different than we saw seven months ago.”

But instead of a negative, Knox sees the silver lining in the insecurity. The pandemic is renewing Californians’ innovative spirit, making people who previously wouldn’t have considered a career switch take a fresh look at their pathway and decide to take advantage of the skills training offered by the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, community-based organizations, and other philanthropic educational groups.

“I think that people felt they were already paying the bills and they were making ends meet and they didn’t have the opportunities to get additional skills,” Knox said. “You know, a lot of graduates may already have a degree, but how do they now take a skill that they already have and develop that further with the idea that those jobs have changed?”

The switch to remote work also benefits workers in the more rural, poorer areas by enabling them to work for Silicon Valley corporations without the prohibitive prices of a move to the tech center of the state.

“We are investing funding in the Central Valley, we’re investing funding in the north of the state and [Inland] Empire,” Knox said, discussing how the Labor and Workforce Development Agency is supporting technology training and re-skilling for students and adults in traditionally non-tech areas.

New jobs, skills sets and opportunities

Workers who aren’t tech-savvy are also sought after, as cybersecurity is a democratizing field that requires an understanding of traditionally more liberal arts fields, such as psychology and law.

“You don’t really need to have that classical degree; you can learn pretty quickly if you’re smart,” Furrier said, pointing out that openings exist for people from all backgrounds and that because many of the jobs are newly created positions, they don’t have prerequisites or set levels of educational achievement. This means that traditional entrance barriers have been removed.

“It’s not about just who you knew or who you might have an in with to get that job. It is based on skills,” Knox said. Thanks to the initiatives from the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, educational institutes, and businesses throughout the state, Knox foresees a future where California once again spearheads a new workforce for the technological future.

“We look forward to making sure that California Workforce Development Agency is leading the charge to make sure that we have equity in those jobs and that we are also leading in a way that brings good jobs to California and to the people of California, [and] a good education system that is developed in a way that those skills are necessarily met for the employers,” he said.

For the complete four-day Space & Cybersecurity Symposium event lineup, click here(* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for the Space & Cybersecurity Symposium. California Polytechnic State University, the sponsor for theCUBE’s event coverage, has no editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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