Turning Innovation Into Enterprise

TCWV in the News

Training a coding, cyber workforce in WV

Op-ed in the Charleston Daily-Mail

November 23, 2018

by Anne Barth

We often hear that students in school today will work in jobs that don’t even exist right now.  Even just ten years ago, who knew that people would find work as Uber drivers, digital marketers or cloud computing specialists?

However, there is one area of existing, in-demand jobs that is growing—in software coding and cybersecurity.  Right now, for example, there are 872 open cyber jobs in West Virginia, according to Cyberseek.org.  Nationwide, there will be 1.8 million unfilled cyber jobs by 2022, and this sector is projected to grow at a rate of 28 percent through 2026.

For West Virginia—with a solid base of Federal agencies centered on homeland security and national defense already in place—this offers a great opportunity to accelerate training programs for these positions, which generally pay higher-than-average wages.

TechConnectWV hosted the recent WV Coding & Cyber Summit, with support from global technology giants like Intuit, IBM, McAfee, and Northrop Grumman, to highlight the incredible opportunities to grow West Virginia’s knowledge sector and digital economy.  In-state tech companies were on hand, too, including Advantage Technology, Allegheny Science & Technology and Core10.

By matching industry needs with coding and cyber education programs offered throughout the state, West Virginia students will be prepared to fill these jobs.  More than 200 people attended the Summit, including many representatives of higher education and a large contingent of both high school and university students.

Karen S. Evans, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, told the group that West Virginia is “forward leaning” in addressing this opportunity now.  Evans, a West Virginia native, works with industry to ensure the most advanced and secure energy infrastructure.  She urged a continued focus on helping to train the cyber workforce that is needed both today and in the future.

Diane Miller, an executive at Northrop Grumman, shared the success her corporation has seen in the CyberPatriot program, aimed at engaging high school students in cybersecurity competition scenarios.

While West Virginia has several of these clubs around the state, more are needed to engage a greater number of students in hands-on experiences so that they can visualize and plan an academic pathway to a cyber career, whether it’s high school plus a two- or four-year degree.

As Ms. Miller pointed out, cyber is a profession that has something for everyone, depending on their aptitudes and preferences.  That’s one of the great things about “middle tech” jobs—not all of them require four years of college.  Even better, many of these middle tech jobs are outside the traditional tech hubs on the two coasts, according to the Brookings Institution, which bodes well for West Virginia.

Jason Rolleston, a Pocahontas County native who is now a vice president with antivirus software giant McAfee, pointed out that West Virginians have a rich tradition of finding ways to make things work. They can take that same mentality of finding creative solutions and apply it to cyber, he said, but many don’t realize–or don’t believe–they can do so. What we need to do is help them realize this is possible—that what you need to know as an auto mechanic can translate to a career in cyber.

Timi Hadra, the top IBM executive at the sprawling Rocket Center facility in Mineral County, talked about how she is partnering with West Virginia educators to implement innovative apprenticeship training programs.

In a recent CBS News report, it was reported that IBM is investing $1 billion in initiatives like apprenticeships to train workers for what it calls “new collar” jobs – a phrase coined by IBM president and CEO Ginni Rometty for workers who have technology skills but not a four-year college degree.   Some of this investment will come to West Virginia if we can find the right skill sets.

TechConnectWV was pleased to have brought everyone together recently for this Summit and to showcase not only these career opportunities, but also the interconnected efforts underway to grow this sector and diversify our economy.

West Virginia must continue to invest and expand its coding and cybersecurity learning opportunities – at all levels.  By doing so, the Mountain State will create a larger pool of tech talent, engage more fully in the digital economy and be in a more competitive position to capitalize on these emerging coding and cyber employment opportunities.

Anne Barth is Executive Director of TechConnect West Virginia, which is a statewide economic development organization dedicated to the advancement of science, technology, and the innovation economy in West Virginia.