Dec 11 2017

K-12 Schools, Universities Boost Cybersecurity Education to Close the Skills Gap

With the global number of cybersecurity professionals down, schools need to prepare students for future jobs.

By 2019, there were will be a global shortage of cybersecurity professionals of about 2 million, IT governance nonprofit ISACA reported in a 2016 skills gap analysis.

With this looming over their heads, university leaders have recognized that they need to better train cybersecurity students — from creating more engaging experiences to reshaping programs so they go beyond just the technical skills.

But most students have already ruled out careers in cybersecurity by the time they reach college, so the responsibility of closing the skills gap also is falling on K-12 schools.

K–12 Cybersecurity Programs Spark Interest, Foster Skills

Experts at the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) conference in November, discussed how creating opportunities for K-12 students to learn the basics of network security, cryptography and cyberethics are critical to encouraging academic study and career awareness, Education Week reported on its Digital Education blog.

With recent research indicating that most young women are deciding against careers in cybersecurity before age 16, it’s not surprising that the experts at the NICE conference insist that cybersecurity education must come earlier in high school.

Sheila Boyington, the president of Thinking Media, who delivered the keynote address, told Education Week that one of the best ways for young students to engage with cybersecurity is to see how the skills can help them solve real-world problems because it illustrates the relevancy of learning the skills.

Educators don’t have to create specialized cybersecurity lessons to start getting their students thinking about security issues. Kevin Nolten, the director of academic outreach for the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center, told Education Week that educators can integrate the topic into discussions about other things.

For example, when teaching about electricity, Nolten recommends that teachers also have students think about what they’d do if a cyberattack affected a power grid.

At Parkville High School in Baltimore, students are already diving into complex cybersecurity issues. According to Education Week, Parkville students learn how to set up networks and how to hack into them.

“You’ve got to know how people get in so you can protect the company’s network,” Nicholas Coppolino, who teachers Parkville’s cybersecurity classes, told Education Week.

Learning cybersecurity has its perks at Parkview. Students receive community college credits for completing the courses, which entices some of them to complete associate degrees quickly.

Colleges Rethink Cybersecurity Recruiting Methods

At the collegiate level, institutions are finding new ways to entice high school and college students into their programs.

New York University’s Capture the Flag hacking competition during Cybersecurity Awareness Week in November lets high schoolers and undergraduate students work in teams to solve real-world security problems, EdTech reports.

NYU engineering student Christopher Thompson told EdTech that his experience with the competition during high school is a big reason why he chose NYU and his degree path.

As universities look to recruit more young women and minorities into their cybersecurity programs, experts note that they need to be better at communicating what cybersecurity jobs entail.

Also, by emphasizing the “soft skills” needed to evaluate culture and policies to boost security efforts, cybersecurity programs might be able to entice more diverse groups of students, thus helping to close the skills gap.

Vasyl Dolmatov/Getty Images

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