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Security concept: Locks on digital background

By Kenneth Desforges
Faculty Member, School of STEM at American Military University

On Oct. 6, there were 20,235 job listings on Dice.com looking for staff with cybersecurity skills. Many offer outstanding pay and benefits packages from some of the largest companies in the world yet a large number of these positions will go unfilled. What role can education play in changing that?

Education is the process of obtaining knowledge. This process can be through formal education. Alternatively, the process can involve specialized non-academic training programs. Further, the education process can involve self-study, mentoring or on-the-job training.

Most cybersecurity job postings list the following education requirements:

  • College/University degree
  • Certification(s)
  • Experience

To fill the highest paying positions, applicants must have all three.

[Related: How to Stay Safe Online]

What is the role of a college or university degree?

An associate’s or bachelor’s degree serve to provide a broad general education and enough technical education to assure a future employer the applicant has at least the entry level knowledge to perform a cybersecurity job.

The master’s degree is an advanced degree more narrowly focused on the field. The masters should assure the employer that the applicant has at least a journeyman level of knowledge and can perform a cybersecurity job independently.

Finally, the doctorate level degree is even more narrowly focused; the degree candidates focus on research and teaching in the field. Employers are assured that doctorate degree holders are capable of performing advanced research and are experts in the field.

When determining which college or university to attend, the most important thing to consider is the school’s accreditation(s). Students should specifically look for schools that are regionally accredited. This accreditation provides students assurance that their investment will be protected and that employers and other schools will accept their degrees.

Course title options may include: Cyber Warfare; Digital Forensics: Investigating Network Intrusions and Cybercrime Security; Cyberlaw and Privacy in a Digital Age; Legal Issues in Information Security; Information Assurance; IT Security: Physical and Peripheral Defense; Digital Forensics: Investigating Wireless Networks and Devices; Legal and Ethical Issues in Security Management; White Collar Crime; Large Scale Cyber Crime and Terrorism; Cyber Attacks and Defenses; and Project Management.

What is the role of certification?

A certification verifies for the employer that the holder of the certification has the education and knowledge that the particular certification says it should. This statement is vague but, with the plethora of certification vendors and certifications, the definition must remain broad.

Many of the higher-level cybersecurity certifications, including the CISSP, CISA and CISM, require a certain number of verifiable years of experience, as well as passing the required examination.

Certifications provide a simple way for the human resource departments and hiring managers to narrow the candidate pool to applicants that have the unique or specialized knowledge that is most important to the job. Some employers, including the Department of Defense, now require certifications for various cybersecurity positions. (DoD 8570.01-M. Information Assurance Workforce Improvement Program.)

What is the role of experience?

Entry-level jobs often require little or no prior cybersecurity work experience. However, entry-level jobs are often hard to locate. State, local and federal government agencies often have internship programs and colleges and or universities may have work-study or scholarship-for-service opportunities in the cybersecurity field.

[Related: College Degree Choice and Your Career]

How can I leverage one type of education for another?

Some regionally accredited colleges or universities offer transfer credit for associate degrees and other college credits collected throughout your career. Some colleges and universities will even offer credit for what you know! This credit may come from earned certifications; assessment of other prior structured and non-structured education; as well as work and life experience. A few will provide additional credit opportunities for prior military education and testing, including DANTES/CLEP exams.

About the Author: Kenneth Desforges is a certification decorated IT professional with as many acronyms appended to his name, it would require a few lines to list them all, among which include: CISSP-ISSMP, PMP, CISM, CISA, CRISC, CGEIT, CCDA, CCNA, CCNP, MCSE, Security+, IATIII, IAMIII, IASAEII, CND-SP Manager, CEH. He has over 18 years’ experience designing and implementing cybersecurity solutions and programs. He received an Associate Degree in Arts from Riverside Community College, a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology from Excelsior College, and a Master of Science in Information Assurance from Norwich University. Desforges is an Adjunct Professor at the School of STEM in American Public University System.

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