RIT helps veterans and first responders transition into cybersecurity careers

$2.5 million in NSA funding supports RIT-led coalition to address cybersecurity talent shortage

RIT received $2.5 million in NSA funding to build and launch a pilot workforce development program for military service members and first responders seeking transition to civilian cybersecurity careers.

A new coalition, led by Rochester Institute of Technology, is paving the way for military service members and first responders to transition into high-demand civilian cybersecurity careers.

RIT will lead eight universities in developing certificate programs to build and validate focused skills in governance, risk, and compliance. The pilot program is backed by $2.5 million in funding from the National Security Agency (NSA)—which will make the training free for transitioning veterans and first responders.

The workforce development program comes at a time when cybercrime continues to grow, but there are millions of unfilled cyber jobs globally.

“We have this deep and broad need for cybersecurity workers and we have about 200,000 transitioning military members every year who have military service that could be congruent to these careers,” said Justin Pelletier, director of the Cyber Range and Training Center at RIT. “They have a deeper understanding of what right looks like, and they are used to assessing needs and solving security problems. Maybe they don’t have the right vocabulary, but after five or 10 years in the military, they have the foundation.”

Pelletier, who also serves as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, also sees the program as a way of helping those who experience a lack of sense of purpose after service. He said former military members can continue service and give back through a civilian cybersecurity opportunity, get paid well, and make a difference.

“Especially in cases where someone is unable to serve in their former capacity because they have sacrificed their body and been injured on duty,” said Pelletier. “Suicides are the most common casualty among our military members, and if we can prevent that and inspire sense of purpose in even one person, then the whole program will be worth it.”

The certificates will prepare participants for careers in auditing and compliance. An IT auditor role yields an average annual salary of more than $100,000 and represents approximately 8,600 open positions across the country. Participants could also take on jobs as a cybersecurity consultant or penetration and vulnerability tester.

In addition to providing a pathway to great careers, the workforce development program will directly benefit the Department of Defense in its Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification compliance mandate. About 30,000 contracting companies in the Defense Industrial Base will be required to receive audits according to the CMMC, a program of cybersecurity standards that aims to safeguard American ingenuity and national security information.

Certifications will start with an introduction to cybersecurity and advance to courses on penetration testing, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing for cybersecurity. The length of each certification will vary, with some lasting 40 hours and others taking a full semester to complete. They will be offered online, with some in-person options.

University at Albany is already enrolling for a certificate in Cybersecurity Risk and Auditing, while Anne Arundel Community College has a Network Security certification program.

This spring, RIT plans to offer an introductory Governance, Risk, and Compliance certification program that provides training, knowledge, and skills aligned with the CMMC curriculum. The certificate will be offered through RIT Certified and the ESL Global Cybersecurity Institute.

NSA funding supports scholarships for qualified participants, which will lead to 250 new certifications. The program funding comes through the NSA’s National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity program—of which RIT is a designated institution.

The seven other coalition institutions are University at Albany, Anne Arundel Community College, Louisiana State University, Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, Iowa State University, Norfolk State University, and University of North Florida. Thirty-six industry partners have also signed on for the workforce development program.

Service members moving to civilian life qualify as transitioning one year prior to and after separation, or two years prior to and after retiring. Pelletier said that he hopes the certifications can be offered to veterans through the GI Bill in the future.

To learn more, go to the coalition website.

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