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What the White House's Cybersecurity Workforce Plan Should Look Like

By embracing cybersecurity as a critical part of our national security and education strategy, and working together to invest in opportunities for all, we can create a safer, more secure world.

Last week, the White House announced the National Cyber Workforce and Education Summit to address the crisis that is our nation's cybersecurity talent shortage. With over 700,000 open roles alone in the United States, we are facing not only an industry crisis but one that affects national security, as Russia and China and a slew of organized cybercriminal groups continue to wage cyberattacks across the globe.

During the summit, the White House put a stake in the ground, announcing that an official strategy is coming this fall to address this critical issue. Now that this important summit has taken place, here are a few recommendations that policymakers should keep in mind as they formulate the official strategy.

Treat Cybersecurity as the Skilled Trade It Is

Coming out of the summit, the Department of Labor announced the 120-Day Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Sprint, expanding the use of Registered Apprenticeship programs to apply to cybersecurity jobs and upskill and train individuals who are interested in breaking into the industry.

While this is a step in the right direction, the government can assist further with the cyber talent gap by increasing support and funding for programs that promote cybersecurity in high schools, provide scholarships in college, cybersecurity trade programs, or even creating an extended cyber "Peace Corps" in which the government would pay for training after which the recipient would give years of service providing free expertise to organizations around the country.

Similarly, we must hold the private sector accountable for providing resources, training, and development programs that are applicable to the industry at large. Many companies now have scholarship programs or apprenticeships, which, in collaboration with public sector initiatives can make a meaningful difference in bringing up the next generation of cyber defenders, especially when it applies to development of new technologies in the field of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, detection and response, and more.

Harness the Power of the Digital Generation

As we go through our educational journeys, we are taught basics about history, math, and arts, but we lack common knowledge about things such as personal cybersecurity and data privacy. Despite the digital world our children are growing up in, cybersecurity hygiene isn't introduced at an early age, and therefore it may be seen as a "chore" for them when they become adults.

We need to focus on building always-on cybersecurity literacy, through national cybersecurity literacy programs. These can be introduced at a young age through early education but should also be reinforced through digital citizenship courses and opportunities at the high school level. By introducing cybersecurity literacy earlier, we can open up talent pools and diminish unnecessary obstacles that impede underrepresented communities from participating in the cybersecurity labor market. This investment showcases that the pathway to careers in cybersecurity is tangible and available for all. In turn, we'll inspire a new generation of diverse, aspiring professionals to help create and protect the future of technology.

Abolish the Silicon Valley Barrier to Entry

Although Silicon Valley has been the home to some of the most successful technology companies, it's no secret that the socioeconomic barriers to entry are high. Between the cost of living and the highly coveted Stanford or MIT pedigree, it's challenging for members of underrepresented communities or those without an Ivy League degree to make connections with the movers and shakers in the industry. Meanwhile, public and private sector authorities acknowledge that the lack of diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity is a long-term, generational problem with no clear end in sight or solution strategy at a national level.

The US government should partner with the private sector to identify and invest in the rising talent markets across the country, providing incentives to businesses that in turn, are investing in untapped talent markets — such as veterans, non-coastal cities, etc. For example, veterans have a mission-driven mindset that is invaluable to cybersecurity. Along with enhanced apprenticeship programs, the government should work with private sector businesses to invest in this talent pool as part of reentry programs post-service.

Hundreds of thousands of open roles nationwide, in a critical sector, is a daunting figure, but it's also a tremendous opportunity. Public and private sector leaders may disagree at times, but if there's one thing that we've come to agree on, it's that this skill shortage is a crisis, and we must work together to bridge the gap. By embracing cybersecurity as a critical piece of our national security and education strategy, and working together to invest in every avenue of opportunity, we have the chance to create a safer, more secure world.