THE RACE IS ON
Arkansas picks up the pace in a national
120-day cybersecurity sprint
Interview with Lonnie Emard,
ACDS Apprenticeship Director
CYBER THREATS GROW daily, and the talent to combat them isn’t keeping up. It’s estimated that the U.S. as a whole has more than 700,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions; some 4,000 of those are right here in Arkansas. To focus efforts on balancing this critical shortfall, the U.S. Department of Labor, in partnership with the White House, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and other government agencies, announced on July 25 a national, concentrated campaign—called “The 120-Day Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Sprint”—to increase cybersecurity apprenticeships across the country. Every successful race requires a strategy, and we asked ACDS Apprenticeship Director Lonnie Emard to tell us about Arkansas’ approach to running this all-important national sprint.
Give us some background on this interesting national initiative.
Sure. Remember at the beginning of this year when we were suffering through all the supply-chain issues? To deal with that, the U.S. Department of Labor staged a 90-day campaign, much like this one. The idea was to make an important announcement to the U.S. population as a whole: We have a problem, and we need to put a focus on how states, agencies, nonprofits, employers, training organizations, and basically all Americans can help solve this problem. It’s something that has to be done on a massive scale.
That “campaign,” as I call it, was pretty successful. I don’t know the exact details of what changed or what got better, but I do know that trucking associations nationally banded together to address the problem, and in general the effort produced some positive outcomes.
We’re now nearly halfway through this 120-day Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Sprint. What’s the strategy?
As a collaborative ecosystem in Arkansas, we’ve got state agencies, such as the Office of Skills Development (OSD), that ACDS works with constantly to try to raise the awareness of registered apprenticeships in general. But now, here’s a focus on a particular area—cybersecurity—and that requires a very tailored response.
The first thing we did was realize that when we talk about cybersecurity, it extends beyond just “cyber” and “information security.” It’s really a broader subject, touching on software development and IT infrastructure in general. If you do cybersecurity right, you build it into all those platforms of what we call the production environment, right? You don’t just patch on security at the end. You don’t just hire people after the fact to fix an isolated security problem. Ideally, cybersecurity should be managed as a completely integrated architecture.
This focus over 120 days will intentionally heighten the issue of cybersecurity within the overall IT talent and skill gap.
In our state, we have an organizational advantage, thanks to the investment of time, money, and influence that our governor has made on behalf of Information Technology for several years now. Besides OSD and the Arkansas Department of Education, there’s ACDS, with our established platform for employers to utilize and get started with Registered Apprenticeships in IT and cyber, and nearly 100 employers statewide are already onboard doing Registered Apprenticeships in those fields. Then there’s Forge Institute, which is specifically focused on excellent cybersecurity training. Together, we joined forces with the U.S. Department of Labor to work together on this 120-day sprint, and came up with a campaign of five goals:
- Increase awareness of current successful cybersecurity-related Registered Apprenticeship programs, partnerships, and initiatives and how they’re helping industry educate and train a skilled cybersecurity workforce to reduce cybersecurity risk.
- Advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) across cybersecurity occupations through Registered Apprenticeships, especially for historically underrepresented populations such as women and communities of color.
- Educate the public on the efforts the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship is taking to accelerate the process by helping employers launch programs in as little as 48 hours by using existing industry-vetted and DOL-approved standards.
- Recruit employers to explore Registered Apprenticeships and partner with DOL and the Department of Commerce’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) to help meet the nation’s critical cybersecurity workforce needs.
- Connect career seekers to cybersecurity apprenticeship opportunities.
As part of this 120-day sprint, you just held a big Cybersecurity Employer Accelerator in Arkansas. Tell me about that.
It happened last week, on September 14, a virtual event sponsored by ACDS, the Office of Skills Development, Forge Institute, and the Arkansas Department of Education. We had 163 attendees statewide, and we were very, very pleased with the turnout and the obvious enthusiasm.
Our roster of speakers was comprised of leaders from across the state, who shared their experiences and insights into how employers can leverage Registered Apprenticeship Programs to help solve their cyber workforce challenges. Speakers included: From the Office of Skills Development (OSD), Director Cody Waits and Apprenticeship Expansion Coordinator Mark McManus; from Forge Institute, Executive Director Scott Anderson; from Arvest Bank, CIO Jim Cole; from Walmart, Senior Director of Non-Traditional Talent Brynt Parmeter; from the Arkansas Division of Information Systems, Director Jonathan Askins; from the U.S. Department of Labor, Senior Advisor Manny Lamarre; from the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), Deputy Director Marian Merritt; and from ACDS, Executive Director Bill Yoder and Apprenticeship Director Yours Truly.
The idea was to place this important event in the middle of the 120-day period, which gave potential attendees ample time to learn about it and then, after it’s over, gives us time to follow up with all of those people who’re newly aware of and interested in Registered Apprenticeships. Going forward, we’ll weave all those committed attendees into our normal processes to get an additional 20-25 employers started in Registered Apprenticeships because of this focused campaign.
That said, this major event was just the first of many events that will take place throughout the state during the remaining weeks of the Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Sprint. One example coming up is the NWA Tech Summit in October, as well as the JOLT cyber hackathon. So, we’ll be sending out many additional press releases and announcements. In other words, during this 120-day sprint everybody across the country is being encouraged to join the dialogue, submit your ideas, and tell everybody what’s going on.
From the national campaign, there’s something called an “express interest button” that employers and individuals and organizations are being asked to use in order to say, “I’m interested in apprenticeships.” Well, we at ACDS have gone to all 100 of our current employers asking them not only to register for our Accelerator, but also to get on that DOL.gov site and show their interest in Registered Apprenticeships. We want people nationwide to say, “Oh my gosh, what’s going on in Arkansas?” Needless to say, that’s another big part of our campaign.
One other point I want to make is that, starting with the announcement of the Sprint in late July and then with the scheduling of our Accelerator on September 14, the timing of all this has been very deliberate. Because 120 days from the July announcement brings us to National Apprenticeship Week, which takes place from November 14-18 this year.
Starting with our foundation of IT apprenticeships and fanning the flame with a national movement, we’re creating an impactful statewide campaign here at home. A spectacular group of individuals have been meeting on a weekly basis, implementing the steps to achieve these goals. Then, come November, we’ll report on and celebrate Arkansas’ success during National Apprenticeship Week.
So stay tuned, there’s much more to come!