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Turning Innovation Into Enterprise

TCWV in the News

Now is the time to develop a WV cyber workforce

Op-ed in the State Journal

December 3, 2018

by Anne Barth

At the West Virginia Coding and Cyber Summit Nov. 15, McAfee Executive and West Virginia native Jason Rolleston made an excellent point about why West Virginians are well suited for jobs in cyber. In describing a neighbor from Pocahontas County who could fix cars with “duct tape, baling twine and coat hangers,” Rolleston accurately noted that West Virginians have a rich tradition —born out of necessity — of finding ways to make things work.

He pointed out that West Virginians can take that same mentality of finding creative solutions and apply it to cybersecurity, but many don’t realize — or don’t believe — this is possible. What we need to do is help them realize that what you need to know as an auto mechanic can translate to a career in cybersecurity.

Getting the word out about the enormous and growing number of jobs in cybersecurity was a key focus of the Coding and Cyber Summit. Right now, there are 872 open cybersecurity jobs in West Virginia, according to Nationwide, there will be 1.8 million unfilled cybersecurity 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.

In order to be successful in these efforts, we need to have the private sector engaged. TechConnectWV sought and received support for the Summit 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. Growing in-state tech companies were also involved, including Advantage Technology, Allegheny Science and Technology and Core10.

By matching industry needs with coding and cybersecurity 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.

Many of these students were able to attend the Summit thanks to a generous contribution from another tech leader who hails from West Virginia. Weirton native Billy Bosworth, CEO of DataStax, reached out to TechConnectWV to offer funds to help students attend as a way to honor Brad Smith of Intuit, who mentored Bosworth as he built his company. That’s another great attribute of West Virginians — reaching out to help lift others, as well.

Karen S. Evans, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, addressed the summit and said that West Virginia is “forward leaning” in addressing this opportunity now. Evans, also 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 cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity career, whether it’s high school plus a 2- or 4-year degree.

As Ms. Miller pointed out, cybersecurity 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.

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 4-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.

At the summit, we heard that our students and workers have what it takes to find good paying jobs in the innovation economy. Now what we have to do as a state is to invest and expand its coding and cybersecurity learning opportunities at all levels. By doing so, the Mountain State can create a large pool of tech talent and engage more fully in the growing digital economy.

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.