Cyberattacks are on the rise, especially given our increased reliance, or outright dependence, on technology since the onset of the pandemic.
“Workers and learners were moved from their offices and schools into their homes and in front of screens, but the rushed logistics of moving them often did not account for new cybersecurity threats,” said Kevin Dellicker, owner and manager of Dellicker Strategies. “Everything became decentralized, providing more points of entry for cybercriminals.”
As the pandemic was taking hold, Dellicker was midway through working with a small group of interns from Bergen County Technical Schools. He had already recognized the value in introducing bright, young students to the cybersecurity field. Now, technology firms like his and organizations big and small feel an even greater sense of urgency to grow a workforce tasked with getting cybersecurity under control in our country.
“If we can’t, we can’t use the internet,” Dellicker warned.
Dellicker first became involved with BCTS as a consultant on a number of technological initiatives for the vocational-technical school district. About three years ago, Dellicker began sharing his knowledge with some of the BCTS students interested in careers in technology; he took on his first group of interns.
At the time, BCTS did not have a designated program for students in cybersecurity. Dellicker helped consult on the development of that highly concentrated program, which launched this school year at BCTS’ Applied Technology High School located on the campus of Bergen Community College. Students start in the ninth grade and can graduate in four years with an Associate in Science degree, 30 credits of which are covered by the high school.
“It’s exciting to see the school grow and evolve,” said Nick Del Vescovo, a former intern with Dellicker Strategies and an Applied Technology High School alumnus.
Now a sophomore communications major at The College of New Jersey, Del Vescovo said his internship opened his eyes to the prevalence of cyberattacks. He helped create an “incidents page” on the Dellicker Strategies website to share notable cyberthreats to public organizations and recent incidents affecting schools and municipalities.
Lauren Dungan, a 2020 graduate of BCTS’ Applied Technology High School, also interned with Dellicker Strategies. As a freshman studying mechanical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, Dungan sees the relevance of high school students studying cybersecurity — even if they don’t directly pursue a job in the field. She explained that we all will play a role in keeping systems more secure for our families, schools and employers.
“This is especially important for individuals like me interested in a career in STEM,” she noted.
And, high school students looking to specifically explore or jump-start careers in cybersecurity can have promising futures through programs like the one at BCTS’ Applied Technology High School and another offered through a partnership between Morris County Vocational School District and County College of Morris.
“They will have jobs,” Dellicker predicted.
The U.S. Commerce Department’s tech job-tracking database estimates that there are about 465,000 open positions in cybersecurity nationwide as of May 2021. The need for experts spans from private businesses to government agencies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a job in cybersecurity is $103,590 per year and the industry is expected to grow 33% from 2020-2030.
“We’ve heard from many industry partners who can’t keep up with posting each new job opportunity in the cybersecurity field,” BCTS Assistant Superintendent Andrea Sheridan said. “We knew there was a demand for this program, and then we received tremendous support from industry advisers who helped us shape our new program to meet some of that demand. They stepped up to contribute to our curriculum; they offered to take on interns.”
Shari Castelli, assistant superintendent for curriculum & instruction at Morris County Vocational School District, further emphasized the value of having industry partners, especially in helping to keep the district’s cybersecurity and information protection curriculum relevant.
“The industry changes so quickly, and they’re able to keep us updated and let us know what our students should know and be able to do,” she said.
Castelli specifically called out Tom Brennan, who is a partner in the cybersecurity solutions company Proactive Risk and chief information officer of a New Jersey law firm.
“When our program was first starting about three years ago, we relied heavily on a few key advisers from the industry, and Tom was one of them,” she said. “He encouraged us to involve our students in competitions, noting that these mean just as much, if not more, to colleges and employers than the courses students have taken. He also encouraged us to participate in cloud-based labs and exercises.”
Morris County Vocational School District’s cybersecurity program is a shared-time program for Morris County students in 11th and 12th grades. Students take courses at the County College of Morris’ Cybersecurity Center, earning college credits and working toward industry certifications.
While the high school program tapped into some existing college courses, Brennan and other industry advisers, including state officials working within the New Jersey Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Cell, provided guidance on programming language and operating systems to use in courses and what industry certifications the high schools students should work toward.
“And, we pay for them,” Castelli said, recognizing these certifications are important milestones for students as they move forward on their career pathways.
“Our industry partners are clearly invaluable resources for our schools and students, but the relationship is a mutually beneficial one. They are helping to develop programs based on the knowledge and skills they are looking for in employees, and many are starting to build relationships with students who just may become their employees,” Castelli said. “Given the workforce gaps in so many industries and the rapidly growing employment needs in industries like cybersecurity, we are always looking for more partners.”
Employers can learn more and express interest in partnering with county vocational-technical schools at: careertechnj.org/become-a-business-partner.