Oakland, Mich., Schools Consult Industry for Cybersecurity Ed | #education | #technology | #training

With cyber criminals fighting constantly to stay one step ahead of IT security professionals, staying up-to-date on changes in the field of cybersecurity is vital for school districts and workforce training programs preparing students for jobs in the industry. Seeing the need for industry insights, Oakland Schools in Michigan has been working with county technology leaders, private companies and other industry partners to align its cybersecurity curricula with the needs of employers.

According to Jarrad Grandy, executive director of student services at Oakland Schools, the district’s technical educators meet with employers at least twice a year as part of a cybersecurity education advisory committee for Oakland Schools Technical Campuses, the district’s career technical education schools, to evaluate their cybersecurity courses.

“In the 2018-2019 school year, we switched to a model that was much more employer-driven. Their role is to consistently and constantly give us what they’re seeing in the field,” Grandy said, noting that the advisory committee is just one of several that guides technical programming at Oakland Schools.

“They help us figure out what we need to teach kids,” he added. “They give us advice on what’s coming, what we should focus on, or what we should focus on less, and we must combine that with state standards.”

Grandy said much of the cybersecurity course content, tech equipment purchases and assessments are regularly evaluated and adjusted as needed with the help of said industry partners, who collaborate with educators and administrators to align courses with workforce trends. He added that employers also work with the district to guide activities such as cybersecurity simulations, wherein students get hands-on experience dealing with cyber attacks and data breaches.

“This is an employer-driven process … We’re driven by what the industry needs,” he said. “If we’re doing what we’re supposed to do and you like the output in the long run, then the goal is to get every kid who is interested and meets the employer standards to be gainfully employed.

“You need to have employers who say, ‘This is something to actually pursue and invest in,’” he continued. “For us, in the last five years or so, we’ve really focused as an organization on making sure that what we do is employer-driven from the programs we offer, to the processes we use, to the systems we design and develop.”

According to a 2020 analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for IT security professionals is expected to grow 33 percent by 2030 amid an increase in cyber attacks against public- and private-sector organizations with growing network vulnerabilities, due in part to the rise of telework during COVID-19.

While employers’ specific IT needs can vary from company to company and industry to industry, Grandy said, most are in need of workers with at least some degree of IT security knowledge as workplaces become increasingly digitized.

“Depending on the partner you talk to, many times what we end up hearing is you need kids with soft skills. That’s one part of it,” he said. “The basics are the basics — how you handle data protocols, how you handle data from one server to the next … Our kids work on the fundamentals of cybersecurity, but while they’re working on the fundamentals, they’re getting work-based learning opportunities where they get to see in real time where there may be a data breach, or an employer says, ‘Here was a data breach we had in the past, and here’s how we approached it.’”

Noting that IT skill sets have become increasingly integral to operations across industries today, Grandy said one of the committee’s main focuses recently has been to integrate the district’s cybersecurity programming at its Southwest and Southeast campuses with other technical courses.

“I see cybersecurity becoming more and more attached to all of our programs. IT, in many ways — and cybersecurity as a subgroup — is an enabler industry,” he said of the district’s tech ed plans moving forward. “There’s cybersecurity in construction, cybersecurity in health, cybersecurity in auto. For our system, what we’ll be doing over the next few years is much more collaboration in our programs we offer to give students a realistic view of how their work is going to impact other industries … In general, we will see more integration of our programs across industries.”

Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.

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