“A long apprenticeship is the most logical way to success. The only alternative is overnight stardom, but I can’t give you a formula for that” – Chet Atkins

Workforce development throughout all of Europe was once centered around apprenticeships. Their apprenticeship concept was a system of training the next generation in a profession. Training was done as an understudy to an individual in an industry, typically lasting 3 to 7 years. After completion the apprentice would gain professional certification and have the skills necessary to practice with competence.

Modern-day apprenticeships are much more sophisticated than you may believe. Most associate apprenticeships with bakers, bricklayers, tailors, and seamstresses – traditional trade roles. This is not the case. A little over two years ago a perfect storm happened and eventually led CyberUp into apprenticeship. 

The conversation was dark, and the media was not painting a great picture of the future of cybersecurity and the availability of talent. Headlines often read “Cybersecurity companies will soon have millions of jobs they can’t fill,” “Mind the skills gap: attracting and training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals,” and my favorite “The cybersecurity talent gap is getting event worse. Ironically these were words we have used since our launch in 2016, but like most, were not aware of the possibility’s apprenticeship could offer our region and beyond. 

With some help from our friends in both Missouri and Illinois, and the Department of Labor, we created the third in the country Cybersecurity Analyst Registered Apprenticeship. Just as a traditional trade models were designed, our program combines the three main elements of apprenticeship: curriculum, on-the-job training, and mentorship. We provide 580 hours of online instruction, grounded in cybersecurity best-practices and fundamentals, and coordinate with local employers like Bayer, Peabody Energy, Centene, and the Science Center to complete their 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. This approach equips an apprentice with the skills necessary to excel as a cybersecurity analyst.

We were inspired to create our program because of high demand from employers for a trained workforce specifically in cybersecurity. According to Cyberseek, there are over 4,524 openings for cyber jobs in the St. Louis region. This number has been multiplying as the St. Louis region grows into a nationally recognized tech hub. With college prices through the roof and graduates not always securing job placement with a degree, apprenticeships offer an alternative solution to filling the workforce with bright, educated, and experienced non-traditional talent. We believe a combination of traditional education and non-traditional programs like ours can meet regional workforce needs in the future.  

Two years since launching we continue to improve how we deliver the program. Our focus has been on both the candidates’ success and the employer’s needs. For individuals our commitment is to meet them wherever they are starting. This has led to the creation of our pre-apprenticeship program where candidates train for 8 weeks on soft skills, IT Fundamentals, and the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. They earn industry credentials and gain the confidence they need to get a job. On the employer side we continue to adapt to their needs. We have added flexibility in how they hire to include direct hiring, contingent workforce hiring, and custom training for their own candidates and teams. Our goal is and always will be…help great people get jobs and help companies fill their teams to better protect their networks. 

The good news is that the model works. Our employer partners value our program and our support to the individuals they hire. Brad Hettenhausen, VP of Strategic Services at Gadellnet, a small managed services provider in St. Louis explains, “it’s important for us to have high-quality candidates and traditional hiring puts all of the work on us…we were open to the apprenticeship program because CyberUp was selective about candidates and serious about their training. He also added the process of hiring an apprentice was easy overall. I’d compare it similarly to internships. It’s great to be able to take a chance on a candidate we may shy from hiring full-time but to take a chance in an apprenticeship format.” Gadellnet has hired two apprentices and has committed to hiring more in the future. They have been an amazing partner. 

The model even works in larger organizations like Bayer and Barry Wehmiller. Roftiel Constantine, Chief Information Security Officer at Barry Wehmiller, stated “CyberUp does a good job of reducing risk for the hiring companies by screening the apprentices, offering a 90-day transitional period, and putting them through a technical training program. The bonus is the 580 hours of additional training provided on key topics within the cybersecurity discipline.” Chris Sawall of Bayer looked at their role in an even larger more regional perspective. “I see this as an opportunity to engage and support the local community. We have negative unemployment rate in this field and a significant need to fill the talent gap. We must delve into any path that will help lead us to success. I think the apprenticeship program creates a non-traditional means to help educate and train those interested in the field and a path to employment.” 

Apprenticeship in the technology sector is still in its infancy. To see this through, companies must continue to adapt and adopt new ways to hire. Most organizations still have a degree requirement. This eliminates the ability to hire individuals with incredible hard skills simply because they do not have a traditional education. Large tech firms like Apple and Google are leading the way on this topic, but we need more to follow suit. Companies must also look at other ways to bring on entry-level talent. Traditionally, internships and cooperative employment has been a company’s “farm system.” My suggestion is not to abandon those models but simply open their doors to include apprenticeship. 

CyberUp has become and will continue to be an advocate for apprenticeship. We have presented our program to the State of Missouri, the Military Defense Communities Summit, New America, and at NICE’s annual cybersecurity conference. Our mission has evangelized to other communities the importance of apprenticeship and brought a positive light to our region. We are in conversations with other cities like San Antonio and Colorado Springs about expanding the model and helping their employers meet future hiring needs. We are confident the model and concept are sustainable and scalable. With the right push from the right organizations the concept will be the catalyst needed to close the cybersecurity skills gap.