AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) –The field of cybersecurity continues to grow, but that growth is outpacing qualified candidates for the jobs. The National Cybersecurity Workforce Development Program – CyberSkills2Work – is coming to Augusta University. Steve Weldon and Dr. Michael Nowatkowski join The Means report to talk about the program, the needs in cybersecurity, and what the future holds in that field.
Brad Means: Steve Weldon, I want to talk to you first about this national program, the National Cybersecurity Workforce Development Program at AU. And just ask you, first of all how AU became a part of it. Did you have to ask to become a part of it? Did they come to you and say, please join us because y’all at the cyber headquarters?
Steve Weldon: Brad, thanks for the question. And we got involved with this initiative through the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber. And so we are a center of academic excellence in cyber defense. And through this mechanism, we are in relationship with a number of other institutions throughout the nation. And it’s this means that we got involved in. So what we talk about is skills to work. This National Cyber Workforce Development Program is a coalition of 10 institutions that are all center of academic excellence in cybersecurity designated. So we became involved with this group through the CAE relationship. And that allowed us to work with a bunch of other CAE organizations that we know and work with. And all for the greater good of increasing the cyber workforce.
Brad Means: You know, depending on where you look, you can find news stories that indicate there are hundreds of thousands of openings in the cybersecurity field. Many of those openings in Georgia and in South Carolina. Why, why aren’t these jobs being filled? You’d think people would be flocking to them.
Steve Weldon: Well, Brad, I think folks are flocking to them but that just calls out just what a shortage that we have in the nation. And so when we go to look at numbers cyberseek.org is a great place to look at job force analytics about what’s going on with the cyber workforce development. So when we see this estimate of 500,000 jobs, almost 500,000 thousand cyber security related jobs in the nation being unfilled, and we drill down and we start looking at Georgia about 17,000 positions. And South Carolina, about 5,000 positions. Then we ask a question, why aren’t they being filled? And it’s the workforce. This is a basic economics question, supply and demand. The demand is out there because of this digital world that we live in, the supply is slower. And that’s what the skills to work program is all about is trying to open up, speak it a little bit more, and get more folks into that pipeline. More folks into these critical cybersecurity positions.
Brad Means: I know that CyberSkills2Work wants to focus on first responders and wants to focus on transitioning members of the military. Why did y’all decide to target those groups?
Steve Weldon: Brad, part of that is, is a real estate question about where are we? We’re in the CSRI. So this is location, location, location. So four more, just down the road such an integral part of the CSRA. We’re part of this community as well as Augusta University. So when we look at segments of the population that could be put into the cyber security workforce in relatively short periods of time, we start looking at those veterans, those service members who are transitioning soon, and for first responders who are looking to transition to civilian life and say this is a great demographic to look at because with their skills, with their experience, they can go in and either just upscale a little bit in cybersecurity if they’re already working in cybersecurity related positions or retool completely. And given their backgrounds, can go into this realm relatively quickly. And so what we’re doing with CyberSkills2Work is not intended to replace four-year degrees. It’s in addition to four year degrees because this workforce shortage is so drastic. So those veterans, those transitioning military members, those first responders, they are great demographic to make this opportunity available. Because regardless of what kind of uniform you wear, there will be a point that you decide to hang up the uniform so it’s easy to know what you’re coming from. It’s not as clear what you’re going towards. But those folks who are geared towards cybersecurity careers or interested in pursuing cybersecurity careers, we want to be there to help them with that transition.
Brad Means: All right, let me clarify now for those people who are saying, Hey, this is something I think that suits my skill set. Do they need a four-year degree before they come to you? Or can you through CyberSkills2Work get them where they need to be to get to be an attractive candidate?
Steve Weldon: Brad, for this particular program, this aspect of what do to educate cybersecurity workforce, we are looking for those veterans, those transitioning military, and those first responders who have a four-year degree from a regionally accredited institution. And what we do with this relatively short 19-credit hour program is to retool or upskill them in order to be able to get that first cybersecurity job. So you are correct. For clarity, is yes we are looking for folks who have bachelor’s degrees.
Brad Means: What does 19-credit hours, what do 19-credit hours look like? It sounds like a really heavy semester for a college student. Is that about how long it takes three months maybe?
Steve Weldon: Brad, what we’re looking at is for this program to take around three semesters. And of course, the timing would depend on when a student may go into it, but the 19-credit hours is going to be a block of courses, mandatory courses as part of this program and then some elective courses as well to really bring that educational foundation with a college type program, with some prerequisites and co-requisites, there’s a better sequencing. But we’re really targeting three semesters for completion.
Brad Means: All right, how long after you complete that training can you land a job? I know it may be too early for me to ask you that question. How long do you anticipate it might take before someone gets that first offer?
Steve Weldon: What we do believe is somebody coming out of this program with their experience, with their background, with this skills to work program under their belt showing that they have achieved this level of education in cybersecurity, that they will be very, very competitive in the cybersecurity workforce. And as we have indicated, whether we’re talking Georgia or South Carolina, whether we’re talking the metropolitan areas of Atlanta or Columbia, or we’re talking right here in the CSRA, there are thousands upon thousands of positions open. We believe these students will be very attractive, very competitive for these positions.
Brad Means: How much can you make?
Steve Weldon: That’s a great question. And of course that is to a great extent going to depend on where you go. Salaries are obviously higher in the Atlanta area, and say they would be here in the CSRA. But what we know is because these skills are in such high demand, the salaries do tend to be very competitive and leading towards the higher side of what you would look at as an entry level position salary.
Brad Means: What’s the benefit for Augusta University, we care about you all and you’re standing not only in the world of cyber, but in the world of higher education in general. This has to be a boost to you all, to train these candidates and then to see them go into the workforce. Does it help you on a big picture wise?
Steve Weldon: It certainly does, Augusta University is here to serve this community. And so when we see folks come in from the community and do well in our programs and then do well out in the workforce, that is a huge benefit to us. And we we’d like to use those stories. We like to tell the stories of our students who have done well. And maybe that will help other folks decide that AU, Augusta University is a great solution for them as well. So yeah, it benefits us. And we can go and look at how this cybersecurity growth has taken place here. I’m a sailor, a rising tide floats all boats and the tide is rising. We are thrilled to be a part of this in helping the community and serving this community and trying to meet the very real, very critical demands for cybersecurity workforce.
Brad Means: Well, as you mentioned at the beginning of the interview, this includes member institutions from all over the country. Does that help you at AU place candidates in jobs, anywhere in the county?
Steve Weldon: I believe so. Being able to say that a candidate is a graduate has completed a program under the CyberSkills2Work, and because of the strong coalition that we have through these other institutions, as you mentioned, will look great on resumes. The academic transcripts and the resumes. And it should mention this coalition has an interesting aspect to it. Is that we have obviously tailored our program to fit the CSRA, to fit those veterans transitioning military members and the first responders that are in our area. The model that we’re using may not fit for other areas of the country. But with this coalition, we’re seeing a lot of different solutions, potential solutions, but we’re all working towards the same goal. Is increasing those numbers in the cybersecurity workforce, the cybersecurity practitioners. But in being part of this coalition, we’re also sharing. Here’s our lessons learned, here’s our best practices. Here’s what worked well for us. So if you happen to be an institution in the vicinity of a university, you might try what we tried. And certainly we are looking very closely at the successes that our partner institutions achieve to say, how could we retool ours? How could we adjust ours to be more successful for the community that we serve?
Brad Means: Wow, I know that AU will be enjoying some of those same successes in the very near future if not more. And I appreciate you taking the time to break it down, Steve. Best of luck to you and everybody at the Cyber Institute. I know the first deadline is approaching. We’re going to talk about that in our next segment. But thanks for giving us a feel for this program.
Steve Weldon: Thank you, Brad. Appreciate your time.
Brad Means: Absolutely. The Means Report, we’ll be back in just a moment when we will talk to one of Mr. Weldon’s colleagues at AU at the Cyber Institute to talk about the of cyber in general, what’s the field look like right now. And we’ll continue to hit on ways by way of AU that you can get into it as The Means Report continues.
Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. We’re continuing to talk about cyber and an exciting new program at Augusta University that can help you land a job in that field, especially if you’re a first responder, or a transitioning member of the military with the skills needed to succeed in cyber. There’s a pathway at AU to help get you where you need to be. And Dr. Michael Nowatkowski is with Augusta University School of Computer and Cyber Sciences. He’s a key part of this new program. Dr. Nowatkowski, welcome to The Means Report. Thanks for being here.
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: Thank you for inviting me, Brad.
Brad Means: Listen, the deadline is fast approaching for this first wave of students, July 1st I believe. How’s interest going so far?
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: So far, we’ve got about 10 students who have expressed interest. We just launched our website about two weeks ago. So we’re very excited that we have that much interest so quickly. And we’re getting ready to look at making some of our our first selections here in about a week or so. So we’re very excited about the interest so far and we look forward to seeing even more students by after the word gets out about the program some more.
Brad Means: Well, I’m sure that it will, and I’m sure that people will want to pursue the pathway as I mentioned, that AU is offering. Has interest in cyber gone up since the army moved so much of its cyber operations to the CSRA? Have you seen an increase in interest from students at
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: Yeah, it has. Yes, very much so. We’re seeing about a 25% increase in student enrollments in our programs here at the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences. And a lot of those students are registering for our cyber security programs. We have three different degrees in cybersecurity. We have a bachelor of science in cyber operations which is based on our computer science degree. We have a bachelor of science in cybersecurity which is really focused on our cyber security skills, based on our information technology degree. And then we have a brand new, almost brand new degree in cybersecurity engineering. So it’s the first engineering program here at Augusta University. We’re all really excited about that. And we’ve got a lot of interest from students in all three of those programs.
Brad Means: Yeah, as this interview approached, every time I would look at a news website, there would be an article near the top of the page on hacking. Even this morning when I came in to record this interview with you, hacking is dominating the headlines. Do you teach your students how to combat that even at a freshmen, sophomore level?
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: We have an introductory to cyber security course that normally our sophomores take that teaches them about the threat actors that are in cybersecurity, and ways that hackers try to get access to your systems. We also in that course, teach the students a little bit about networking so that they can understand how your computer talks to other computers. And again, ways that hackers can get onto your system. At the junior level, we do offer another series of courses that help teach more techniques about how the hackers try to get onto your system even allowing the students to use some of those techniques in a controlled lab environment so they can see exactly how some of those techniques work.
Brad Means: Wow.
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: In another course, we show them how better to defend against those types of attacks. Setting up the firewalls, using intrusion-detection systems. Other means such as that to protect their networks and their systems.
Brad Means: Dr. Nowatkowski, it all sounds so complicated to the lay person. I know to somebody who has cyber experience, it’s probably not. But just for those out there watching, how does somebody know how to spot a hacker? Do you teach them how to spot suspicious emails? Do you teach them how to know what malware looks like? Or is it at the computer code level where you have to know something that intricate to see when someone’s code might have ill intents?
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: Thank you for that question, Brad. It is very challenging now to really discern what is a potential threat and what is something that isn’t. The hackers are getting very good at developing ways to gain your competence, to get access to your system. The biggest way that the attackers are able to get onto your system is through something called a phishing email. This is one of those emails that you receive. Normally, there’s something in there that grabs your attention, makes it look like something is very urgent for you to do. Maybe it’s related to your bank account, that you have to click on the link to make sure that your bank account is safe for instance. And the attackers are getting very good at making those look like legitimate emails. Once you click on that link, you essentially open up a pathway so that the attacker can then get onto your system and compromise your data, or do some of the ransomware attacks that are so prevalent in the news these days. We do show that the students how to do this. And in fact, one of the hands-on exercises, they actually create a phishing email and they watch in that controlled lab environment, how they’re able to then get onto another system. Again, for the average person, it is very difficult sometimes to tell the difference.
Brad Means: So you have this CyberSkills2Work Program, and in a perfect world, we have lots of first responders and lots of transitioning members of the military who come to you and get the certification that AU can offer. My question is, they could probably get a cyber related job without going through the CyberSkills2Work Program. So what does that certification from AU give them, is it more money, is it a better position?
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: Well, really what we’re focusing on here at Augusta University, is to try to attract those students who may not have a lot of background in cybersecurity at this time, but are looking to retool or to upgrade some of their skills so that they can, like you said, get a better job, higher pay. But what the courses that we’re offering here, we’re really giving the students the knowledge that they need to move forward. So the courses that are part of the certificate program include a couple of courses in programming. We give them a course on introduction to networking and cybersecurity and then they also take some elective courses that may fit their own personality better, such as one of those ethical hacking courses, where they learn the offensive tools. More of the, there’s also another course on defending. We also have a course in digital forensics if maybe they’re interested in a career in digital forensics. But the skills that they’re gonna get here, are really gonna provide that knowledge for them. Once they get to the interview, then there’ll be able to display those skills and hopefully land the job and get a good compensation for that.
Brad Means: We’re so quickly becoming known as the headquarters for cyber in this country and around the world. Does AU have a pretty good relationship with employers in that field? And I hit on this with your colleagues, Steve Weldon in our first segment. Do you have a relationship where you can hopefully plug these students in when you’re finished with them and get them a job pretty quickly?
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: We are developing those relationships. And part of that development is through the Georgia Cyber Center here in Downtown Augusta where our school headquarters is. And through the industry, government relationships that the Georgia Cyber Center has developed, we’re looking to find internships for students here at the Georgia Cyber Center, as well as some of the local community that could then lead to future jobs so that the area is developing here very well and our relationships are continuing to develop also.
Brad Means: So as y’all launched this program, and we continue to get these great students coming in, these great candidates coming in, what’s your hope for the future of this program? What kind of growth would you like to see in the months and years ahead?
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: So I really like to see a greater interest in students who may not have background in cybersecurity to get interested in career in cybersecurity. There’s a great need in the cyber workforce right now. So it’s good to be able to attract any opportunities possible for the students to have them transition into the cyber workforce. I think it’s also great that we can provide the skills that students can use to help find them a really good job that has upward mobility and can provide them a path to success.
Brad Means: What can we tell our kids right now especially high school age children. What should they focus on or study so that one day in the near future, they’ll be an attractive candidate for your program?
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: So I think, just do well in school. Concentrate on your math. Develop a desire to be able to solve problems. Stay curious, read some of the local news headlines about some of the attacks that are going on and some of the developments that are going on. Really staying curious and staying involved and just always wanting to learn more is very important in the cyber field.
Brad Means: Well, I’ll tell you what, prob…
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: It is-
Brad Means: Yeah, go ahead, Doctor. I’m sorry.
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: I was just going to say, it is continually evolving so that desire to always learn is very helpful.
Brad Means: It’s so true. Curiosity and problem solving skills are such underrated traits. They can take you so far in life. Well, I’m going to put your information up on the screen as we’ve been doing throughout this interview so hopefully we can get a lot more folks knocking on your door for the CyberSkills2Work Program. Folks, the first deadline is coming up July 1st. But don’t worry, if you miss this wave of students, there will be more in the future. You heard Dr. Nowatkowski talk about his hopes and dreams for the program. But try to jump in on this first one so that you can get through those 19 credit hours and get a job. Dr. Nowatkowski, thank you for taking the time to be with me today, I appreciate you.
Dr. Michael Nowatkowski: Yes, and thank you again for inviting me, Brad.
Brad Means: Absolutely.