Disabled veterans are getting access to skills and experience in the growing field of cybersecurity thanks to a unique partnership between state government, the tech sector and community colleges.
The Disabled Veterans Cybersecurity Apprenticeship program is a collaboration between the Department of Information Technology (DIT) and other state agencies; ISG, a Raleigh-based IT firm specializing in cybersecurity; and educational organizations in the state, including Wake Technical Community College and other community colleges. Only disabled veterans who are honorably discharged from service qualify to participate.
More than 200,000 members of the US military return to civilian life each year with 20,000 of them in North Carolina alone. Getting used to civilian life after a career in the military can prove difficult, especially for those who sustained service-related disabilities. The pilot program gives soldiers a new way to serve their country.
Five apprentices work eight-hour days Monday through Thursday, guided by mentors in their work. On Friday, the apprentices meet for training at ISG in Raleigh. They receive regular salary and benefits, and by the time they graduate from the program in October, they will be eligible to take the examination for and obtain a CISSP – Certified Information System Security Professional Associate certification. The two-year, $500,000 pilot program is in its second year.
“When I was selected for this program, it said to me, ‘Thank you for your service’ on a whole different level. It didn’t just thank me for my service, it thanked my family for the sacrifice that they made…. I really feel like the state is giving back. This is the thanks for my service, and now I am able to take care of my family,” said Vicky Steward, a retired first sergeant in the U.S. Army. Steward was injured almost 22 years ago in the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
ISG has a job placement program in place to ensure that all of the participants are employed after they complete their training, said Maria Thompson, DIT’s chief risk officer. Employers will gain well-trained, reliable, and dedicated workers in cybersecurity, a field that does not yet have enough qualified workers, and veterans receive training and expertise in a rising and lucrative IT field. Veterans are comfortable with changing environments and learning new things, Thompson said. They have been trained to protect, they have already proven themselves able to work hard with high integrity, and they are adept at working on teams.
“All of those things are things that you need in cybersecurity,” says Tony Marshall, ISG’s president and chief executive officer.
DIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette said he and the department will work to bring more veterans into the program. The department intends to ask the General Assembly in the coming legislative session for support to double the size of the next apprentice class.
“It’s great to be able to offer these positions to these individuals, and watch them grow, watch them succeed, watch them teach others, watch them learn, and just be able to be supportive,” Boyette said. “This initiative really needs to grow … and we are going to figure out ways to make it grow.”