- California’s Strong Workforce Grant seeks to help colleges build economically relevant programs.
- College of Marin used a data-informed approach to sense and validate a tremendous need for cybersecurity skills in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- According to Marc Woerlein, the college’s workforce and partnership program specialist: “Data makes it easier to take a program from proposal to execution. Good information allows your faculty, your administrators, your community partners to understand why you’re making decisions.”
As data breaches come fast and furious, so too does the need for analysts to counter them. And thanks to a new cybersecurity certificate at College of Marin in the North Bay of San Francisco, everyone—from technicians seeking new skills, to first-time IT students—now has the perfect opportunity to gain a valuable credential.
Last year, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office initiated the Strong Workforce Grant: a $200 million annual investment to provide “more and better career technical education to increase social mobility and fuel regional economies with skilled workers.” College of Marin received about $1 million per to year to develop CTE programs leading to solid careers in the Bay Area. And it didn’t take long to determine that a cybersecurity program should clearly be one of them.
“Demand was high, supply was low, wages were high,” said Marc Woerlein, a workforce and partnership program specialist at Marin. “We proved the need for a cybersecurity program because we proved that standing at the end of the line was a student prepared for an in-demand job that would increase their wages.”
Offered in collaboration with Cisco, the hands-on program offers six modules, each with their own computer network certification. The first module, “IT Essentials,” offers a certification in CompTIA A+, while the sixth culminates in the cybersecurity certification itself. No college prerequisites are necessary and students need not commit to all six modules, making the course highly accessible for people (such as recently displaced workers) interested in rapid training.
Using Data to Find the Need
“Data investigation is one of my favorite parts of the process,” said Woerlein, the point person for LMI in his department. Faculty and administration frequently come to him for the “data picture” to determine what’s going on in the region: growing industries, in-demand occupations, missed opportunities for skills that could help student development. “Sometimes the data confirms exactly what you thought. Other times it’s a little different than you expected.”
In the case of the cybersecurity program, it was the former. Using Emsi’s occupation and job postings data, Woerlein first considered supply and demand within the IT industry. A greater number of annual cybersecurity openings than the number of graduates in related programs pointed to a shortage in supply—a shortage which he verified by reaching out to other community colleges and local businesses. Yes, the need was real.
“The projected job growth in the cybersecurity market is astronomical,” said course instructor Nicole Cook. “Even if all the area colleges were training people, there still wouldn’t be enough workers to fill all the jobs.”
Then there were the wages. Emsi data showed a median hourly wage of $35.88 per hour, or almost $75K per year.
The result? The data revealed a strong labor market demand for an occupation that College of Marin’s level of education (certification and associate’s degree) was uniquely suited for. “We demonstrated that there was a direct path for students into high-demand, high-wage cybersecurity occupations ready and waiting in our community,” Woerlein said.
Data: More Than Metrics
Thanks to Woerlein’s objective research, the review committee readily approved the new program. “Data makes it easier to take a program from proposal to execution,” he noted. “Good information allows your faculty, your administrators, your community partners to understand why you’re making decisions. You aren’t just saying, ‘I would like to do this.’ Instead, you say, ‘I would like to do this because…’ ”
But to Woerlein, data is a lot more than impersonal metrics. It is a tool to help students and his community succeed. The cybersecurity program kicked off in August with full enrollment, and more students are inquiring about the program, saying they work in IT but don’t have any certification. They are looking for assurance that the program is worth it. After all, time spent in the classroom is time not spent in the workplace.
“They want to know what a certification means for their bottom line,” Woerlein said. “Well, thanks to data, we can show them how a cybersecurity certification will deliver on that bottom line: more money in the household.”