CyberMission

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Demand for cybersecurity professionals is outpacing those seeking such positions, data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, Burning Glass, and CompTIA show. However, a partnership between the Mission Economic Development Corporation and CompTIA seeks to pick up the pace for the Rio Grande Valley in offering free cybersecurity training and certifications in four industry-recognized certificates.

“CompTIA is an industry-recognized, vendor-neutral certification, so it covers the foundation and fundamentals of each one of the topics without limiting the knowledge to something that only works a given brand or device,” said Joel Garza, chief operating officer for the Mission EDC.

The Mission EDC received a nearly $500,000 state grant to fund CyberMission.

“What it signals to me is the dire need for opportunities and for workforce development programs — and for apprenticeships and for college programs to focus on cybersecurity,” Social Impact Director Cristina Garza said. “There is a larger trend in job openings over the next few years.”

Now in its second official year, CyberMission has undergone some changes. Last year, participants were required to attend full time, earning all four certifications in 12 intensive weeks. This year, Mission EDC and CompTIA built in more flexibility for participants, offering an afternoon and evening class, and splitting the four certifications into two semesters — effectively halving the original pace.

“It’s important to note for CyberMission, these certifications are one component of your application for a job,” Joel Garza said. “If you think of the three legs of a stool, the certification is one, experience is a second, and the third would be a traditional academic setting. We have some folks who had two of those, but needed the third. We have some folks that have certification and now they’re working on ways to get more experience.”

CyberMission courses include:

> CompTIA IT Fundamentals, an introduction to the world of information technology

> CompTIA A+, the starting point for an IT career and foundation for skills across a variety of devices and operating systems

> CompTIA Network+, which covers designing, configuring, and managing wired and wireless devices

> CompTIA Security+, a global benchmark for best practices in IT network and operational security

Students pay nothing to take the courses. The program also provides vouchers for the exams taken to obtain certifications.

“The program team includes a career services coordinator that can field job opportunities to the students, provide professional development, and to connect them to other members of the industry,” Cristina Garza said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to do as much as we can to remove all the barriers that prevent someone that could potentially join a field like cybersecurity.”

Interest in the programs exceeded expectations and accommodate 15 participants.

“We’ve generally had a lot of interest for applications and so we have the challenge of going through the applicants and making the selections and deciding who do we want to have participate based on the impact we feel it’ll have for them and the community,” Joel Garza said.

That impact is already resonating, and the program is proving to be transformational. Joel Garza recounted hearing from a participant who entered the program as a basketball coach looking for something different to do. Now, that individual oversees a team completing IT repairs across the Rio Grande Valley.

“Some of the most exciting feedback that we have received from previous participants revolve around their ability to get employed because of the certifications they earned through the program,” Cristina Garza said. “I think when we get an experience like that, it definitely validates all the effort that goes into securing funding for programs like this to exist.”

Individuals who lack a background or education in IT or computer science are still encouraged to apply, as these courses represent a low-risk way to explore those industries.

“We’re always excited to have a diverse group of students in the cohort,” Cristina Garza said. “So if someone out there reading this has considered going into the IT field but may be scared or may think it’s not for them or that they don’t have enough experience, I would tell them to still apply.”

For more information about the CyberMission program, including more on the courses, cohort dates, and a link to apply for the next cohort, visit cybermissionedc.com.