Why Schools Must Explore New Opportunities To Draw Students Into Cybersecurity
Guest article by Thomas Russell
By 2021, experts predict the world will face a shortage of 3.5 million cybersecurity professionals. In the U.S. alone, the cybersecurity shortage is expected to exceed 300,000 professionals.
What does that mean for the country? And what does it mean for the world? For starters, it leaves businesses and government agencies vulnerable to data breaches — something that costs them millions of dollars and an incalculable amount in lost trust. When proprietary data is stolen, it jeopardizes the security of all Americans.
And it doesn’t stop there. Workplaces increasingly depend on cloud and mobile computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), which has led to an increase in cyberattacks and a growing threat of cyberterrorism.
The need to address this shortage of cybersecurity workers, then, is urgent. Taking steps to prevent cyberattacks and combat any threats to our security is critical. All of it starts with education.
How Education Reforms Can Build the Cybersecurity Workforce
One of the major reasons we face a shortage of cybersecurity workers is the lack of cybersecurity training in education. Some of this stems from an overall lack of education funding, but another major contributor is the general lack of understanding of what’s necessary for students to get a quality cybersecurity education. At this time, most students can graduate from high school without ever taking a cybersecurity — or technology — course at all.
When cybersecurity classes are offered, they’re often lumped together with electives like music, art, and photography. But if we genuinely want to address the growing gap between the number of cybersecurity professionals we need and the number we actually have, these courses need to be part of the Common Core educational standards. Just as every student is required to study math, English, and history, they should have to take cybersecurity classes.
Looking forward, we will all use cybersecurity daily for the rest of our lives. The world is continually becoming more digital: We purchase everything from groceries to entertainment systems online; we stream music and TV shows; we learn virtually; and we communicate, receive healthcare, and even register to vote online. Anything that can be done online soon will be done online.
We must enable schools to rethink their roles in teaching cybersecurity. From the moment students begin attending school, we must engage them with cybersecurity by making it a part of their education—and eventually part of their professional lives. To make this happen, cybersecurity professionals and the industry as a whole must take an active role in advocating for and creating this change.
And this all starts with networking.
The Need for Networks
When cybersecurity professionals and education systems work together to promote and strengthen cybersecurity education, they empower students to go beyond traditional schooling to participate in experiential learning. The importance of networking in education can’t be overstated; it lets students become more well-rounded and allows them to shadow cybersecurity professionals, complete internships, and get hands-on experience.
This networking is best done when the government and private sector play key roles in providing the experience. Because there is no shortcut for training cybersecurity professionals, these public-private partnerships give cybersecurity education a strong foundation for teachers, students, and professionals to build on.
Networking Opportunities to Complement Curriculum
Considering the importance of networking in education—and how it will enable our educational institutions to fill the shortage of cybersecurity workers—what key networking and social opportunities can help schools complement their curriculum reforms?
Start with the following steps:
- Form Public-Private Partnerships
Like any other technical discipline, the cybersecurity field is frequently in flux. New challenges present themselves daily, and new methodologies are developed so often that schools can’t keep up with the latest trends on their own. By getting the private sector involved, schools ensure the cybersecurity training and education they provide are up to date and reflective of the current state of the field.
- Make Cybersecurity Part Of The Common Core Curriculum
Unlike other Common Core curricula, cybersecurity is embedded into the lives of all students from a young age. That said, we must give each of them a strong knowledge of cybersecurity if we expect them to function properly and safely in their daily lives. Beyond making cybersecurity a part of the Common Core, it should be integrated into all courses to maintain a focus on it in every facet of our lives.
- Create Outreach Efforts
One of the main reasons we face a shortage of cybersecurity professionals is that we have entire portions of the population that aren’t introduced to cybersecurity at an early age. We must do a better job of introducing careers in STEM and cybersecurity to every single student—especially women and minorities. When we do this, we work toward a cybersecurity workforce that more accurately represents the country as a whole.
- Define Cybersecurity As A Duty
Finally, we must encourage people to become cybersecurity professionals for reasons that far surpass the potential to make money. Cybersecurity should be promoted the same way we
view service to one’s country—it protects not only individuals but also the nation. We must help students view cybersecurity work as something that will impact society in significant ways.
We face countless dangers in modern times, and those risks don’t begin and end with the physical world around us. Individuals, institutions, and the world as a whole face an onslaught of digital threats. We need a population equipped with knowledge that will allow us to combat those risks to create a safer future for subsequent generations.
About The Author
Thomas Russell is the cyber education program manager for the National Cybersecurity Center and the current Cyber Education (CTE) (STEM) Educator Administrator of the Year. After years of teaching cybersecurity, technology literacy, and computer classes to high school students, Thomas is now responsible for providing cybersecurity education and certification training for K-12 students, teachers, and other adults; he also works to organize cyber events and to forge relationships between educational institutions and businesses.