CONSIDER THIS AN ACDS “halftime report,” except we’re not talking about football. Mid-September marks the halfway point of the U.S. Department of Labor’s 120-Day Cybersecurity Sprint, a national campaign to increase cybersecurity apprenticeships across the country. The Sprint was announced in late July and will culminate in November during National Apprenticeship Week.
Our lead feature this month is an interview with ACDS Apprenticeship Director Lonnie Emard, who describes Arkansas’ strategic response to this national challenge. Every company in every industry needs more cybersecurity talent these days, but how were ACDS and our partners to “scale” that statewide campaign in so short a period of time? We decided we needed to stage a virtual informational event midway through the Sprint, which would give us upfront time to spread the word to employers and other stakeholders throughout Arkansas. Then we would still have two months to follow up with promising participants.
As Lonnie explains, ACDS and our partners held our virtual Cybersecurity Employer Accelerator on September 14. As we started planning for it, we assumed that if we could get 163 reservations, we would net 75 to 100 attendees. Well, we got 163 reservations from across the state…and every one of the 163 attended. Our immediate goal was to reach a new list of Arkansas employers, and we achieved that as well, meeting more than 30 whom we hadn’t met before. Some of those new contacts are already asking for a date and time to hear more.
The Sprint is all about showcasing Registered Apprenticeship Programs as a workforce strategy in IT, with an emphasis on cybersecurity—which, as Lonnie points out, touches all IT occupations. This entire campaign has given us and our partners—the Office of Skills Development, Forge Institute, and the Arkansas Department of Education—a stellar opportunity to let everyone know what’s been quietly building for the past few years in Arkansas.
It began with Governor Hutchinson’s 2017 formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission to research strategies for preparing Arkansas’ workforce for the 21st century economy—one result of which was the creation of ACDS. Back in the second half of 2019, as we were just getting started, there was the beginning of a whisper about this new concept of IT apprenticeships here in our state. Three years later, that whisper has found its voice, and it is loud and clear: The number of participating companies and the number of employed apprentices grows with every passing quarter. That’s the message that we’ll be carrying across the finish line in November.