Here’s how local universities are filling the fastest growing job market in the country

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Colleges and universities on the peninsula are investing in cybersecurity initiatives (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Unsplash)
Colleges and universities on the peninsula are investing in cybersecurity initiatives (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Unsplash)

With people and companies using technology more than ever, there is a need for privacy and Virginia universities are filling that need with growing cybersecurity programs.

“This is the hottest segment of the market with all the focus companies are putting on privacy,” said Jeffrey Blake Rich, chief marketing officer for the Raymond A. Mason School of Business at William & Mary.

At William & Mary, there isn’t a single major for cybersecurity but approximately five years ago the college started integrating these courses and skills into already existing business programs and will be adding them to law programs in the future.

Rich said the college recognized the need for those skills in the workplace but wanted to integrate them into a curriculum that could give students different experiences in cybersecurity.

The cross-program approach gives students the opportunity to learn different sides of the cybersecurity market. For example, Rich said a student studying finances might specially learn about data privacy issues related to that field.

Rich said the market is growing faster than most universities can produce students and by growing those programs, they are filling a gap in the job market.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cybersecurity job market is expected to grow 28 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the average for all other occupations.

“One of the reasons schools have built these programs is because there’s been a decrease in the number of young people going into the STEM field,” Steve Foster, an adjunct instructor for Information Systems Technology at Thomas Nelson Community College. “We, as a country, are growing everyday with technology and there’s not enough people to manage these big systems.”

TNCC has also kept up with the cybersecurity market by starting a robust program in 2012 that is now certified by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, Foster said.

The job market for students with those skills is large, Rich said, with many students finding employment in metropolitan areas after graduation. To better help students connect to these organizations, both TNCC and William & Mary started hosting an annual cybersecurity conference. While TNCC’s started in 2012, William & Mary’s conference is only 3 years old.

“It’s a demand-driven market,” Rich said. “Like any business school or university, we have to be aware of what employers are looking for and how to provide that.”

The conference has been growing each year, typically drawing in 300-500 people. With the success, the school is now planning a cybersecurity workshop in Washington, D.C. that will give 30 people the opportunity to learn more about the topic. This year is the first time hosting the workshop, but Rich said he expects it to be held multiple times a year with the growing popularity of cybersecurity programs.

At Christopher Newport University, the college is in the process of approving a cybersecurity major and recently joined the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, a coalition of universities, businesses and other organizations across the state.

According to the executive summary of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative Blueprint, the initiative will support world class research, promote technology and entrepreneur and set the stage for future leaders and make the state a world leader in cybersecurity.

The state is investing $25 million in the initiative.

While the main center is at Virginia Tech, four other hubs will be throughout the state, such as Coastal Center for Cyber Innovation node at Old Dominion University, according to CNU’s news release.

“As I understand it, it is to set up the infrastructure for business and institution to work together,” said Anton Riedl, chairman of the physics, computer science and engineering department.

Riedl noted the cybersecurity major, if approved, would support the application of CCI, adding current and prospective students as well as parents have asked for a program.

While it may seem college graduates on the Peninsula will head up to Washington, D.C. for jobs in cybersecurity, Riedl said that is not necessarily the case.

“All the big players that support the government, they have jobs in Hampton, Newport News and on the Southside,” he said, adding NASA and Newport News Shipbuilding are nearby. “Not all of the students have to go to Northern Virginia.”

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