Even as the economy continues to recover from the near-collapse of the financial system in 2008, the slow pace of job creation and stagnation of real income of the large majority of Americans continues to constrain economic growth and erode the U.S. middle class. That’s not to say there aren’t lots of job openings. There are – it’s just that many of them apparently go unfilled.
While some say there is a dearth of qualified U.S. candidates, a study from Harvard Business School points out that while “America’s capitalists take every chance they get to remind us that they are our ‘job creators’ … it turns out that their least-favorite thing on earth to do is create jobs.”
Cyber security industry leader Symantec is looking to turn that conclusion on its head. In late June, Symantec joined with Life Journey, NPower and Year Up to launch the Symantec Cyber Career Connection (SC3). High school graduates enrolled in SC3 — an intensive short course — receive general professional skills and specialized cyber security jobs training. To cap the program off, they intern at supporting partner companies — a step towards possible full-time employment and a long-term career path. The program is now up and running in Baltimore, New York and San Francisco.
Triple Pundit spoke with Donald Ger, Year Up’s National Director for Partnerships and Innovation, and SC3 student Ashley Williams to gain greater insight regarding the SC3 program’s structure and goals, as well as how the initiative is progressing.
Opening the doors to cyber security jobs
With the SC3 program, Symantec and partners are out to change the focus on automation and low-skilled jobs discussed in the Harvard Business School study. Some 300,000 cyber security jobs are unfilled in the U.S. It’s estimated that 60,000 of them could be filled by those without college degrees. “The goal with the Symantec Cyber Career Connection is to fill that gap over the next five years,” Cecily Joseph, VP of Corporate Responsibility, told 3p in an interview.
There are some 6.1 million adults with high school diplomas or GEDs in the U.S., but little access to higher education or good paying employment opportunities, Ger explained. Well over 10,000 young adults have enrolled in Year Up’s professional training programs since the nonprofit opened its doors some 13 years ago. Eighty-five percent of Year Up program graduates will have livable wage jobs within four months of graduation. Around 35 percent wind up being hired by their internship provider.
Some 245 companies, including Google, JP Morgan and Salesforce.com, are hosting Year Up interns at any given time, Ger added.
“The young adults we work with, they’re out of high school. We believe they have a ton of talent; they only need the opportunity to leverage that.”
High expectations; high-touch support
SC3 is an intensive program that has been designed to provide students aspiring to careers in the cyber security industry with general professional business skills, as well as specialized training in cyber security principles, methods and tools. “Our students can be trained to add value to these companies,” Ger said.
Pilot SC3 programs in Baltimore (via Year Up), New York City (via NPower) and the San Francisco Bay Area (via Year Up) will start off enrolling some 50 students in order to work the kinks out of the partnerships and curriculum. Students will earn several industry-recognized IT certifications.
“I have to give Symantec credit for looking at the market and identifying a huge need in the cyber security field,” Ger said. “They know there’s a skills gap, and much of that gap can be filled with talent who DON’T have a four-year degree or technical certification. It will be a double win: in terms of filling jobs for companies and for the young adults.”
Individual SC3 programs developed by the nonprofits may vary in length, but they all focus on both technical skills and soft skills — resume and interview training along with the specialized computer skills they’ll need to succeed. “This is high-touch training that can’t be completed online,” Joseph said.
Following their classroom training, students will be placed in cyber security internships that afford them the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a business organization setting. Symantec will help program graduates seek jobs through its network of customers and partners, namely in the financial and government sectors.
A first cohort of SC3 students
A graduate of New Town High School in Owens Mills, Maryland, Baltimore student Ashley Williams enrolled in SC3 after she and her grandmother saw a 60 Minutes report on the YearUp program. The fact that SC3 really focuses on IT, and filling specific needs in cyber security, was the key factor in her decision to apply for the program.
“A lot of times in school, students are unable to decide what to focus on in terms of the future,” Williams told 3p. “With SC3, you focus exactly on what you need to know.”
The program, which is hosted at Baltimore City Community College, is well-organized and demanding, Williams continued. “It’s a high-support, high-expectation environment. They really give you what you need – financial aid covering the costs of tuition, books and materials, supportive faculty and staff. They really want you to push yourself. The expectations are high, but people are also there to help.”
Like her, Williams’s classmates in SC3 Baltimore are very motivated to succeed. “It’s a lot of material. It’s really the first time attending college for most of us.
“We sit together for like an hour before class, review the previous class’s material. We hold each other accountable, and appreciate all the students in the group. We’re looking for collective success.”
Williams is keen to pursue a career in the cyber security field. “I believe this program is really geared towards young people like myself.
“IT is so broad; it can seem so abstract. Just being directly exposed to professionals in the field and this level and quantity of material…We’re shown a specific skill set and opportunities. This program is really helpful in terms of helpful in terms of determining a career path.”
The focus at SC3 is on achievement, Ger summed up. “We’re constantly hearing from companies that what they’re really looking for are job candidates with ‘grit.’ We focus on bringing that out through achievement and very high expectations – along with a high-touch support system.”
“For us, the proof-point is if our students are adequately prepared for their internships, and ‘hire-able’ at the end. We would like to see at least 85 percent hired for a cyber security job at a livable wage, the same as for any of our students – around $16/hour, or a little over $30,000 per year.”
“Without this program and this type of help, a lot of high school students don’t go to college,” Williams said. “They wind up getting a low-skill, low-wage job. I worked in a pizza place for two years. This gives me hope, and the opportunity, for something better.”
*Image credits: 1) Symantec SC3; 2) Symantec, Clinton Global Initiative; 3) Year Up