Creating a cybersecurity talent pipeline

Miami Dade College President Madeline Pumariega (center) at a recent event at MDC to announce that the college would receive a $2 million grant to prepare more students to pursue careers in cybersecurity. (Photo: MDC)

As the workforce rapidly evolves, it’s paramount for colleges and universities to create market-aligned curriculum and accessible pathways that can keep up and lead to future jobs for students of all backgrounds and walks of life.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, cybersecurity is expected to grow by 33% in the next decade. Community colleges across the country have become integral in developing a pipeline to fill those workforce needs. They are attuned to the changing needs of the industry. At Miami Dade College (MDC), for example, the Cybersecurity Center of the Americas is ensuring that the curriculum is in line with industry and leads to high-demand, high-wage jobs.

Students like Brian Boyd, who will soon graduate from MDC with an associate in science in cybersecurity — in addition to three cybersecurity certifications — are attaining the skills needed to be workforce ready. Getting off track for years, a career pathway seemed impossible for Boyd until he enrolled at MDC where he found his career calling and community.

Related article: Bridging the cybersecurity workforce gap

At Miami Dade College, we are committed to developing and growing Miami’s technology workforce. But we do it through a culture of care, and students are always our number one focus. Brian received much-needed support and encouragement from professors, advisors, mentors and even his peers to help him thrive and stay on track to graduation. 

Expanding opportunities

Our cybersecurity program is one of the newest at the college, yet it’s one of the fastest-growing. In just three years, MDC implemented a full, stackable credential pathway that takes students from industry certifications to an associate and bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity.

Now with our first graduates securing and succeeding in internships and jobs, MDC is expanding opportunities and building industry partnerships that ensure continued program development. Earlier this year, the National Security Agency (NSA) designated MDC as a National Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Defense, the first college in south Florida to receive this nationally recognized designation.

Most recently, MDC received a $2 million grant from the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Center for Cybersecurity to prepare more students to pursue careers in cybersecurity. The investment aims to expand opportunities for our diverse student population, which represents more than 167 nations, in the growing and critical field of cybersecurity.

A blueprint for success

This year, enrollment in cybersecurity courses grew by 33% compared to last fall semester. That rapid growth stems from a blueprint that helped us pave the way for our diverse student body to develop their talents and skills to be workforce ready:

  • Develop an industry advisory board. MDC worked with local cybersecurity industry leaders to develop an industry advisory board known as the Business Industry Leadership Team (BILT) comprising CEOs and leaders from both large and small cybersecurity employers that relayed what students needed to know in order to succeed in cybersecurity jobs.
  • Provide industry certifications. Faculty are providing students with embedded skills needed for students to succeed in industry certification exams. Many courses include these exams as part of the curriculum to encourage students to obtain certifications as they progress through the cybersecurity programs.
  • Center for Academic Excellence Knowledge Units: MDC faculty redesigned and developed courses that incorporated the NSA’s CAE knowledge units (KUs). The KUs are critical to meeting the accreditation standards of the NSA’s CAE.
  • Follow a state framework: MDC developed the programs to train students in Florida’s cybersecurity frameworks, which outlines local cybersecurity standards and requirements.
  • Offer professional development. As faculty members were developing the curriculum, they worked toward earning their own cybersecurity certifications. Faculty then went on to embed the skills and technology they learned into the curriculum. Through ongoing professional development, faculty ensures the program evolves with the technology and industry.

Today, technology is a driver in many aspects of our life, especially in our work environments. The need for talented and skilled individuals in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and other critical technology fields are projected to continue to grow as we meet the demands of the future of work.

Like many other community colleges, especially those with CAE designation, MDC is working hard to train the individuals who will protect these new technologies to ensure the security of data and systems. I look forward to building on MDC’s successes and working locally and nationally with other higher education institutions and partners to create even more pathways that will generate a stronger, more diverse workforce.

About the Author

Madeline Pumariega
Madeline Pumariega is president of Miami Dade College (Florida) and serves on the American Association of Community Colleges board of directors.