Cybersecurity has been defined as the “forever war”. Cybersecurity and cyberwarfare represent a dangerous new theater of conflict that is asymmetrical in nature, attacks military and civilian targets, and has very low barriers to entry for both state-based and non-state-based bad actors to exploit. Cyberspace has invaded all areas of our lives, changing the way we work, live, and play. The recent attacks on Colonial Pipelines, Solar Winds and the agencies whose mission is to protect our national security interests are some examples of the growing threats and challenges we face.
To help the State of North Carolina tackle this growing challenge, Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) and the Carolina Cyber Center of Montreat College, both designated as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Education by the National Security Agency, are teaming up to initiate the Carolina Cyber Network (CCN). The CCN is a comprehensive workforce development initiative consisting of 2 and 4-year colleges and universities working together to create a coordinated effort to meet the talent needs of North Carolina’s public agencies and private businesses. In addition to FTCC and Montreat College, the network includes Blue Ridge, Catawba Valley, Forsyth Tech, Gaston, Richmond, Stanley, and Wayne Community Colleges along with NCA&T University and Elizabeth City State University.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, cybersecurity employment is expected to increase by 18 percent from 2014 to 2024 and has grown three times the rate of IT jobs nationally. Fort Bragg, the largest military installation in the world by population (located less than 10 miles from FTCC), has a significant cybersecurity operation. Fort Bragg is also home to the headquarters of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command. The Army installation supports numerous federal contractors, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, who all contribute to cybersecurity employment locally. North Carolina is also home to the Research Triangle Park, which has companies such as SAS, RedHat, Cisco, IBM, Lenovo and numerous biotech and pharmaceutical companies that played significant roles in creating vaccines to combat the global pandemic. In addition, Charlotte has an incredibly robust cybersecurity workforce in the financial service and utility sectors with Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Duke Energy.
In spite of this growing national and regional demand, cybersecurity talent gaps persist at a level that has elevated national concerns causing the Government Accountability Office to list cybersecurity on its 2017 high-risk list. Labor statistics indicate that more than 200,000 U.S. cybersecurity jobs are currently unfilled. The shortage in NC is estimated to exceed 20,000 unfilled positions. In North Carolina, the talent shortage is particularly critical, as the state is home to more than 11,000 IT and cybersecurity companies (NC Department of Commerce data, 2019). Recent announcements by Google and Apple are expected to further strain the workforce system. The CCN is focused on targeting critical economic sectors of the state such as biotech and pharmaceutical manufacturers, aviation, energy and utility infrastructure, agriculture, education, healthcare, and financial services. There are over 125,000 North Carolina residents that make up North Carolina’s robust and growing IT workforce (EDPNC, https://edpnc.com/industries/information-technology). North Carolina is a top five employer in cyber security, but the demand for workers far exceeds the supply.
The goal of the CCN is to establish a comprehensive workforce development network focused on increasing the number and quality of skilled cybersecurity workers able to fill the regional workforce demand of companies in North Carolina. CCN’s vision is to create a holistic talent pipeline that incorporates technical, life, and professional skills to provide students with robust hands-on and work-based learning experiences. The program starts with a normative skills, abilities, and knowledge assessment program that is competency-based and aligned with those valued by industry, state, and federal agencies. The CCN is already applying state-of-the-art learning technologies (e.g., realistic cybersecurity “range” gamification for work force development) to enable a higher output of students (i.e., students per teacher ratio). This program also incorporates character development designed to imbue the life skills needed to thrive in a complex world seeking individuals of high moral character to lead our public and private sector companies to more fertile, equitable, diverse, inclusive, and safe outcomes.
A “hub and spoke” model has been employed by Fayetteville Technical Community College and the Carolina Cyber Center to focus investments in a disciplined talent development program scaled through ‘spokes’ to form a cohesive network across the state to efficiently maximize impact. The CCN partnership has already expanded to include two- and four-year institutions from across the state, as illustrated below:
The business case is clear – with a public/private partnership leveraging existing cybersecurity centers of excellence and the state’s leadership in workforce development, this program represents a powerful, scalable, and efficient solution to the state’s critical cybersecurity talent shortfall.