Federal Agencies Stand to Gain From a Vocational Approach to Cybersecurity Education

CHAINFOTO24/Shutterstock.com

We need to steer students away from assuming they need a four-year degree and toward the option of cybersecurity taught as a vocation.

The field of cybersecurity is constantly evolving, and so is the educational picture for its current and future workforce.

Security professionals join both government and private-sector jobs today via an educational hodgepodge of curricula, certifications and on-the-job training; and instruction models run the gamut from online to in-person coursework, from targeted workshops to multi-year programs. 

This all poses a problem for federal agencies, given that many higher echelons in the GS scale still require a minimum four-year degree. The requirement amounts to a disincentive for an entire swath of highly qualified professionals who may not necessarily pursue—or care about—such a traditional degree. So far, amid this complicated ecosystem for learning, there’s been no overwhelming consensus on what works best. 

It’s time for that to change in one major respect: When it comes to cybersecurity, we need to steer students away from assuming they need a four-year degree and toward the option of cybersecurity taught as a vocation. 

Four Year Programs Struggle with Agility

For a number of reasons, it’s increasingly clear that cybersecurity is something best learned in trade schools, internships and other apprenticeship-style settings. Everyone stands to gain from this approach, but especially the federal government. Let’s take a closer look at why this is the case.

It’s one thing to build bachelor's and graduate programs around disciplines like biology, English or engineering. It's also entirely appropriate to build a four-year degree around computer science and certain fields like data science and computational physics.  But things are different when it comes to cybersecurity.

In trying to stay ahead of rapidly growing digital threats, cybersecurity is essentially the tip of the computer science spear. It’s an environment that is at once ever-changing and mission-critical—defined by agile, continuous learning around the latest malware and cyber defenses. This constantly changing nature of cyber threats and mitigation strategies is simply too mercurial for many established four-year degree programs to keep up with. Curricula would have to be constantly updated, something made more difficult by the fact that full-time professors may not have the time, or clearances, to stay privy to the absolute latest trends and best practices.

Meanwhile, current federal employees hoping to sharpen their skills on the job struggle with continuous education elements in workforce pipeline initiatives—the National Security Agency’s Student Programs, for instance—that emphasize four-year degrees.

Clearly, we need better alternatives than traditional bachelor’s programs. But why is vocational training the best such alternative?

Vocational Training Aligns Best to Industry Needs ... and the Numbers

The power of the vocational or trade school approach to cybersecurity is not just that it’s suited to the nature of the work but also the numbers. This includes a talent gap nearing 3.5 million unfilled positions by 2020, and the salary math for practitioner-educators who may find it hard to reconcile top dollar cybersecurity income with modest salaries in full-time academia

Agile vocational programs get more workers into cybersecurity jobs sooner. And such programs can selectively tap seasoned practitioners—the kind who would never quit their day job to teach full time—for adjunct teaching engagements and mentorships. Furthermore, unlike full-time academic faculty, these working experts are much more likely to have current clearances that keep them on the front lines of cybersecurity, so they can better teach the latest threats and cyber defenses to the federal workforce.

Finally, one of the strongest arguments for structuring cybersecurity training around practical vocational skills is that the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been defining cybersecurity job duties with a very skills and role-based approach in its widely-modeled Cybersecurity Framework. Why wouldn’t we want to match our training to how the jobs today are structured? Indeed that already happening in the federal space: The United Services Military Apprenticeship Program is just one example of programs that skew heavily toward mentorships and on-the-job training. 

Ultimately, both federal agencies and the cybersecurity industry as a whole stand to gain from a more agile and expedited view of cybersecurity education. It’s a model that will serve our workforce—and our country—well. 

Ken Underhill is a master instructor for Cybrary.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.