Partnerships in the Cyberworld: Meeting the Need for Cybersecurity Education
Working and learning in a remote environment only emphasizes the importance of cybersecurity in today’s world. Institutions, particularly in the U.S. have many job vacancies with very few people eligible for the job. Having a well-experienced partner can help universities deliver on this market need and fill skills gaps. In this interview, Dan Vigdor and Ayal Stern discuss the creation of HackerU, the high demand for cybersecurity education and jobs and how to establish strong partnerships to meet learners’ needs.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why was HackerU launched in the first place?
Dan Vigdor (DV): About 14 years ago, we decided to launch HackerU with the idea of developing and building Israel’s number one IT and cybersecurity training center of excellence. We had the intention of transforming lives and enabling people from diverse groups and different socioeconomic backgrounds to become global learners and join the cyber and digital skills workforce.
About three and a half years ago, we decided to capitalize on our premier spot in the Israeli IT and cybersecurity training market and globalize the business, sharing Israeli IT and cybersecurity know-how globally. Israel is one of the most competitive IT and cybersecurity markets in the world, where cybersecurity is not only cause for financial and privacy concerns but a matter of life and death. We began training in over twelve different countries in a variety of different business models. Soon after, we started focusing on developing the cybersecurity and digital skills workforce through collaboration with top tier universities utilizing a comprehensive and rigorous curriculum in order to enable diverse learners to gain the skills they need to enter this lucrative market
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why did HackerU choose to partner with universities in the U.S.?
Ayal Stern (AS): To make a large impact on the U.S. workforce, we joined forces with exceptional universities around the country to offer revolutionary accelerated learning programs. Technological advancements like AI, blockchain, deep learning, and neuro-linguistic programming are all putting individuals at risk of losing their jobs. Individuals currently doing administrative or manual tasks are the most at-risk of being replaced by automated machines, while individuals who emerge from our programs with cybersecurity and other digital skills have their job security increase dramatically.
We greatly value our partnerships with higher education institutions that have also recognized this global demand for cybersecurity and digital skills. With their oversite and guidance, we have been able to give diverse adult learners access to cutting-edge knowledge transfer methods and educational technologies. Partnering with academic institutions has already and will continue to make great transformative changes in the lives of Americans adapting to this evolving world.
Evo: What’s unique about the need for cybersecurity education and training in the U.S. that made this seem like a market that was worth exploring?
DV: There’s a huge demand for cybersecurity specialists around the world. In the U.S. alone there is a demand for over half a million cybersecurity specialists as we speak, and that number keeps growing. Right from the beginning, we noticed that therewas a huge gap in training, leading us to educate people/learners with no prior IT experience into employability in the cybersecurity market, whether they are a hospital nurse, a mom who’s sold her business, someone who lays cable for Comcast or an Uber driver — all from different socioeconomic backgrounds. In preparing them for the workforce and subsequently helping them find a job, we have found a huge void in that particular market niche.
That is exactly where our strength lies. We have over 14 years of experience in understanding how to take somebody with no prior experience and enabling them to enter into the cybersecurity market by training them in practical digital skills and helping them find the right job. The cyber market is not only for the geniuses who can hack the Pentagon, anyone with enough motivation to work, learn and study, who has an affinity for computers can be trained to be workforce-ready in the cybersecurity world. It really just depends on the person.
For example, we had a nurse from a local Hospital on the verge of losing his position after working there for 18 years and fearing to lose his tenure. He saw the lucrative opportunities the cybersecurity field presented, so he signed up for our introductory course, worked hard and was accepted into the full program. He had his friend sign off on a loan for him, worked extra hard as technical learning did not come easy to him and finished the course with high marks. A week after his graduation, the hospital’s cybersecurity department gave him a job, and now he has tenure and is overjoyed. We helped him transform his professional circumstances and secure a sustainable job that he will hopefully have for the next 25 years. These types of stories are happening every day.
We do a very good job at training people with little to no experience and shaping them to be workforce ready. We see a huge gap in the digital market, especially with universities. It’s more difficult for universities to stay relevant in cybersecurity, IT, digital marketing, UI UX, web developing and programming etc. due to the ever-changing digital environment and corresponding technologies. We have a full R&D team that keeps our curriculums and programs relevant and aligned with changing trends and developing technologies.
Evo: How do partnerships with organizations like HackerU, ensure that they’re able to serve a diverse audience of students and provide these pathways to the labor market?
DV: We take on all the necessary investments so that the university does not have to take on any financial burden whatsoever. We offer turnkey service solutions, such as marketing, student acquisition, advising and career services. We market to diverse communities in each city and state we partner with. The university program starts with an introductory course that costs only $500 and enables learners to test and vet the program as well as to see whether they have the passion and aptitude for that specific industry. After passing the Introductory course exam and evaluation, they then are invited to take the full program
The full program takes place part time over 8 or 9 months, giving students the chance to both work and learn simultaneously. The high completion rates and good outcomes of the full program is also due to the selection process in the introductory course of the appropriate learners with the right attitude, aptitude and passion to go through a rigorous comprehensive course.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): How have you helped evolve your university partner’s programs to better suit remote learning in response to COVID-19?
AS: When we began collaborating with universities in the U.S, we found that many university officials shared our vision for a comprehensive, in-person learning experience. However, as our university partners found themselves needing to develop a remote learning option, it was important to us that we provide their adult learners with the best features of their university’s in-person programs in so their online offerings. In response to COVID-19, there was a seamless transition to a virtual learning experience practically overnight.
While we couldn’t have predicted the speed at which our university partners would need to deploy remote learning, it was an exciting challenge to build upon each university’s already established program and ensure their students received more instructor support and resources than ever before. Transitioning to a high-quality online cybersecurity course and delivery now gives us the opportunity to update each university partner’s curricula to current market demands as soon as our R&D teams identify them. It continues to be our goal to collaborate with our university partners and provide their students with a uniquely hands-on, virtual experience as going online is not a temporary solution but the beginning of a new chapter in digital skills and cybersecurity education.
Evo: Can training programs like yours be stacked to build a continuum of skills or integrated into different credential offerings with the partner universities?
DV: Our program is completely stackable, and credentialing is a very big part of it. We build long-term relationships with each university. University satisfaction is one of our three North Stars, and it’s of highest importance to us that we manage to cater to their specific needs and align ourselves with their core values and principles. We also understand that each university is different, so we’re flexible in making sure that we can offer them a personalized collaboration that includes the credential offerings that they deem best for their institution.
In addition to university satisfaction, student satisfaction and retention as well as community impact are our other two North Stars. In the post-COVID-19 world, when unemployment is rampant, our mission has become an obligation to our communities, to help to reskill its residents into sustainable jobs of the future.
Evo: In thinking about how the university is an education hub for the community, how do partnerships with organizations like yours facilitate this service for the people looking for short-term pathways into the workforce?
DV: The need for education is changing in this post-COVID-19 world. People are looking for jobs. Some students might miss the experience of attending a four-year college because there are too many unpredictable variables. At the end of the day, finding a job is of utmost importance. Through collaboration, universities can foster programs that immediately reskill people looking for pathways into the digital workforce.
Collaboration can assist programs that provide an immediate answer to the large number of unemployed and help reskill them “overnight” for a sustainable job. For example, during the ten-month part-time program students can work and learn simultaneously. They are training in the skills of the future and can additionally seek lucrative digital job placement through HackerU’s career services. These programs help transform lives, helping learners to become unprecedentedly employable.
Different learner demographics
It also attracts a non-traditional demographic that differs greatly from the undergraduate and graduate students universities were/are serving mostly now. Furthermore, we believe that our mission in helping people of different socioeconomicbackgrounds earn sustainable digital skills has now become an obligation. And this is a worldwide problem or/and challenge. Universities can immediately help their community by reskilling interested learners into jobs that are needed all around the world, especially now that everything is remote.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the role that partners can play in helping universities establish a new role within the socioeconomic and development position of their communities?
DV: We believe that we can collaborate with universities in a very positive way and together make a huge IMPACT on our communities NOW, when it is the most critical time for our communities, NOW more important than ever.
Today University revenue is likely to decline in the short-term at least, budgets are also likely to be slashed and their investments put on hold. Thus, it will be more challenging for Higher Ed to develop these types of programs by themselves. In collaborating with us, Universities do not have to invest in anything. Overnight, the university has a partner in us and together, we can initiate cybersecurity and other digital skills programs that empower our communities, help reskill the unemployed and ingrain hope for the future.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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