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How Can We Better Prepare Recent Graduates to Obtain a Job in the Cybersecurity Workforce?

Recent college graduates are not ready to perform in the cybersecurity area. Curriculum that is taught at Universities need to be more aimed at preparing graduates for jobs, rather than requiring classes that do not apply to the students major. Students are promised, and shown by colleges, the statistics of job employment after graduating from their program, but the skills they walk away with are often lacking. 

In an a survey done by Adecco Staffing states that almost 74% of recent graduates, “reported feeling as though their colleges and universities had failed to fully prepare them for their post-grad careers.” It is clear that the curriculum must have change when our recent graduates do not have the confidence they need to succeed.

Recent graduates who lack confidence in their skills for their chosen profession, especially in cybersecurity, is unacceptable. There are daily cyber-attacks that are affecting large and small businesses alike. Rather than preparing college graduates to meet the onslaught of these attacks, many colleges require graduates to take classes that are not necessary for their chosen profession.

Because of this, when graduates are applying for their job are passed over for lacking the skills necessary to match their employers needs. According to a recent survey “84% of employers believe half or fewer cybersecurity applicants are qualified for the position.” It is clear that there is a need for curriculum modification to help improve the skills of students.

There are currently over 200,000 cybersecurity jobs in the US that are unfilled. In the field of cyber defence, when companies are being harassed daily, that is a sentence that should keep everyone up at night. 

The only way to solve for the demand of suitable candidates is to modify current curriculum for current technology needs by helping students get more hands on experience. During the time of this research, it became apparent that there is a lack of communication between the workforce and the school place, and a lack of experience for recent college graduates, and a lack of cybersecurity professionals. However, to support this theory, a small group of students and teachers, were pulled aside to participate in a survey to get their perspectives. 

Methodology
In order to gain the perspective of both the teachers and students, on this topic, a quick survey was created. The participants that were interviewed, included five teachers and five students from two different universities, and were asked different questions to help gain a better understanding of the issues. Once the teachers and the students had given their consent the following questions were asked.

Teachers

  1. What do you do to help prepare the students to enter the workforce and meet their needs?” This question was asked to see if a conscious effort was being placed to help in the preparation of students finding jobs once they had graduated.
  2. Do you believe hands on activity is important? Why or Why not?” This question was designed in order to see if the teachers were focusing on the theory of how cybersecurity works, or on an actual system. 
  3. What is communication like between employers and the school? Do employers reach out to you specifically and tell you what they are looking for in a candidate?” This question was designed to see if teachers and employers spoke on what they were looking for in a job candidate.

Students

  1. Would you be more inclined to take a class if it offered hands on activities? Do you feel like “hands-on” courses prepare you better for the workforce?” The idea of this question was to see if students would be more interested in a hands on course to gain experience, if it were an option.
  2. What do you think the workforce is looking for in college graduates?” This question was to help the students think about if this was discussed with them, or if they had thought about this.
  3. What is the communication of the workforce and education like?” The purpose of this question was to see if job fairs were being held, or see if guest speakers were coming to the school to help guide the students. 

Data Analysis

Survey from faculty

  • All teachers give advice to the students and try to incorporate “hands-on” activity, but without proper funding or equipment, they struggle to find free exercises.
  • Three out of five teachers believe that there is a gap between employers and schools. The other two teachers wrote “We try to hold job fairs at least twice a year” and “We typically bring in guest speakers once a semester per class”


Survey from students

  • Five out of five students wrote that they would be more inclined to take a class that offered hands on activities as it does better prepare them for the workforce.
  • Five out of five students gave the answer of “high GPA” while two out of the five gave varying answers between “certifications/licenses and a degree”, but yet doubt their abilities in finding a job when they graduate. 
  • Five out of five students gave the answer that the communication between the workforce and education was poor. One of the students wrote “It’s difficult as I’ve seen my older brother graduate, and remain unemployed in his field because he lacked experience, and the only way to get experience, is to work in the field.”

Findings

It is realized that this is a small subgroup and more data analysis is necessary. However the findings show the graduated students feel as though they lack the skills that are necessary to find employment. This is shown through a survey done by Chegg (an online textbook rental company )“fewer than two in five hiring managers (39%) say the recent college graduates they have interviewed in the past two years were completely or very prepared for a job in their field of study.”

Additionally, according to a survey performed by Raytheon: "Two out of three high schoolers say the idea of a career in cybersecurity had never been mentioned to them by a teacher, guidance or career counselor”. The expectation of meeting the job shortage, cannot be met without informing future students.

Programs like Trilogy Educational Services, and other code camps, are currently working to remedy the situation. Trilogy, for example, brings in onsite professionals that meet with students, give them real hands on experience, and prepare the students for obtaining security certifications.

However, many code camp services are only available if the university has money in it’s budget, and when colleges turn a blind eye and boast about how many of their graduates are able to obtain jobs after attending their university (without showing if it is the student’s chosen career field or not) then solutions like this are often ignored.


Jeff Meacham is a graduate from Southern Utah University with a masters of Cyber Security & Information Assurance with an emphasis of cyber and web security. He is working as a curriculum developer for Trilogy (A workforce accelerator that partners with universities to help companies bridge the Digital Skills Gap). Jeff is also looking to obtain his PhD so he can teach at a University in the future. 


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