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Idaho schools seek to meet cybersecurity staffing needs

According to CyberSeek, there are over 5,000 cybersecurity jobs open in Idaho. Nearly 3,500 openings are in the Boise metro area.

BOISE, Idaho – Whether through email or text, scammers and hackers are constantly creating new ways to steal personal data and infrastructure every day. With their processes evolving, a cybersecurity expert from Boise State University said companies and agencies need to have a role in place to combat and protect information.

“Well, the days of you being safe just because you were small and unimportant are over,” said Marlin Roberts, CyberDome manager at BSU’s Institute for Pervasive Cybersecurity. “Cybercriminals are into just about everything. The advent of ransomware has made it lucrative to go ahead and steal data to extort money from these entities.”

However, the increased need for cybersecurity professionals does not match the number of people available to help fill the roles.

According to CyberSeek, an online tool that tracks job opportunities for cybersecurity jobs, there are more than 5,000 cybersecurity jobs open in Idaho. Nearly 3,500 openings are in the Boise metro area.

A 2021 report from the Idaho Department of Labor showed that cybersecurity job openings in 2020 increased 160% since 2015.

The Institute of Pervasive Cybersecurity’s CyberDome wants to help fill that need. The program matches cybersecurity students with rural communities and Idaho businesses, such as townships and watersheds, that need the service.

Roberts said the idea is to give students real-world experience, while protecting valuable data and infrastructure for entities in need.

“They just can’t afford to hire a commercial entity to provide these managed security services and that’s where we fill the void,” Roberts said.

The opportunity to fill these gaps around the Gem State has become more possible with funding from the Idaho Workforce Development Council.

“One of the things the council is really interested in and focused on is, ‘How can we better integrate work-based learning into all forms of education? “, said the Council’s executive director, Wendi Secrist.

The Council works alongside the Idaho Governor’s Office and is responsible for creating and implementing a comprehensive statewide workforce development strategic plan. They work with kindergarten through post-secondary education, community aid agencies, and state nonprofit organizations.

“All organizations that help nurture, develop and connect people to careers,” Secrist said.

The Boise State Institute received $806,000 from the Council. The Training Fund industry sector grant will enable 84 students to train and work with the CyberDome over the next three years. Roberts said this roughly doubles the number of students they have.

“This will actually increase the depth of services we can offer our clients, students will gain experience in risk assessment, penetration testing and valuable experience,” Roberts said. “It’s a winning combination.”

Secrist said the CyberDome is responding to what she and other council members are hearing from employers, particularly around cybersecurity: They’re looking for people who come in with real-world experience.

“If someone gets a cybersecurity certificate or degree and they don’t have any hands-on experience, if I was in the role of CEO or CTO, I would have a hard time letting them start working on my live network and company assets,” Secrist said.

The state is becoming very aware of the critical importance of cybersecurity jobs and that the need is not going away, Secrist said. That’s why the council also invests in programs other than universities, such as trade schools or local school district cybersecurity programs.

“You don’t have to have someone get a four-year degree, then a master’s, then go for it,” Secrist said. “We have options to help with apprenticeship programs.”

The Boise School District’s Dennis Technical Education Center (DTEC) offers a wide variety of career and technical education (CTE) programs, such as networking and cybersecurity programs, for its juniors and seniors. The Council said it was working with DTEC to connect students to apprenticeships or colleges for cybersecurity.

“It gives them the opportunity to really go in three different directions, they can go straight into industry, they can go straight into a post-secondary option to further their education or in many cases what we’re hoping for is let them do both,” Sean Kelly, assistant director and career development advisor for DTEC.

Kelly said the cybersecurity program is fairly new to DTEC, but with the need for cybersecurity roles so high, he intends to raise awareness about it. He said that last year the program had about 90 students and this coming school year is looking the same.

“We’re one of Boise’s best kept secrets here,” Kelly said.

He is looking to build more partnerships around Treasure Valley to create more opportunities for students if they enter the industry right out of high school.

“If you take a senior in high school, you can mold them into your business and train them to those entry levels where they come in with certain skills and then they continue to grow with you,” Kelly said. “Especially with an apprenticeship, apprentices tend to stay in the company where they apprenticed.”

With cybersecurity now an evolving process, programs like CyberDome see no slowdown in sight for the industry. Roberts said they need to keep training people to put more experts on the job market.

“I don’t think it’s a ball that we can drop and pick up easily,” Roberts said.

People don’t have to be part of Boise State to be part of CyberDome, the program also works with College of Western Idaho, College of Southern Idaho, College of Eastern Idaho University of Idaho and more in the state.

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