Jim Estep says the I-79 Technology Park in Fairmont is in the process of recruiting more federal operations, some of which could fall into the cybersecurity sector.

FAIRMONT — After holding a successful meeting discussing the growth potential of cybersecurity in the Mountain State last month, West Virginia’s technology leaders are planning ways to increase exposure of cyber career fields to the state’s students and young professionals.

The meeting, held by TechConnect WV, spurred the idea to get the word out about the abundance of cybersecurity jobs, and just how important the field is to both the state and the nation as a whole, according to Anne Barth, TechConnect WV executive director.

Barth

“Let’s think about the cost of cyber crime to the U.S. economy,” Barth said. “It’s a huge drag on the economy. Last year, the White House put out a report, and they estimated that the cost of cyber crime in 2016 was between $57 billion and $109 billion. As more of our lives are integrated and interconnected to the internet of things, there’s going to be more opportunities for cyber criminals to attack systems, and it’ll happen across all industries and sectors.”

Barth said that, thanks to getting together and discussing options with others who have a stake in the growth of cybersecurity, they have developed an early plan to increase students’ awareness of cybersecurity and the benefits of entering the career field.

“We have convened a working group of stakeholders in the cyber sector from education, industry and government for almost two years now,” Barth said. “At the meeting in August, we were focused on discussing how we can conduct outreach and how we can get the work out to students about these possibilities and how we can get them enrolled in various programs at educational institutions around the state. …

“The group has been very productive, engaged and enthusiastic, and I find that invigorating. Everyone recognizes the opportunity, and they’re taking steps to make the most of it. Right now, the focus is on getting word out to institutions and parents and communities that there are these opportunities for students and others who want to consider migrating to a technical career so we can develop this pipeline of cyber talent in West Virginia.”

Barth isn’t the only person who thinks cybersecurity is the future. Jim Estep, the president and CEO of the High Technology Foundation, has long been stressing the importance of growing cybersecurity and the knowledge sector throughout West Virginia, both for the state’s economic diversity and overall betterment.

Estep

“We’ve been one-dimensional economically,” Estep said. “We’ve had one industry, basically, and that was coal and a bunch of peripheral industries that supported it. In that context, you didn’t even need a high school diploma to make a good living. That’s great, but to be a healthy economy, you have to have a balance. …

“Over time, kids who have wanted to pursue a career in other areas have left the state because there were no jobs here. What that’s resulted in is the family unit has been broken up. People have to come back from Maryland or Virginia to visit Mom and Dad. They just come back for the holidays.”

Barth agreed, and said part of TechConnect’s goal is to not only interest students to enter the field, but entice those who left the state to come back home to fill needed positions.

“We’ve certainly seen a lot of folks who have been educated in West Virginia but leave to go elsewhere to find these good tech jobs,” Barth said. “Our second challenge is getting the work out through alumni networks that, if you’re tired of an hour-long commute and outrageous housing prices, maybe it’s time to take a look back at West Virginia and see what jobs are now available here that weren’t when you graduated.”

Thankfully, Barth said, some resources already exist to help people map out their futures in

Larry Malone, Anne Barth and Bryan Brown listen in on presentations during the cybersecurity working group meeting.
Staff photo by Conor Griffith

cybersecurity. She said the West Virginia Forward Initiative has already prepared a road map of sorts to give those interested in the field an idea of how to get started.

“They’ve produced a really helpful map that shows what the pathway to these jobs might be for students, and it gives advice on how they might prepare for these jobs,” Barth said. “It also has links to the programs that are being taught at these two and four-year institutions and also employers who are looking for people with cyber skills. …

“This was one of the things that the cyber security working group wanted to have, was a sort of portal to talk about what sort of education programs are available in-state and what jobs are available. West Virginia Forward created that with their website, and we’re trying to put that out.”

This map illustrates the need for cybersecurity jobs within the Mountain State.
Photo courtesy of WVU

While the plan to increase exposure is still in its early stages, Barth said cybersecurity’s growth potential in the Mountain State is huge, and said that interested people should start looking at cybersecurity positions in the eastern panhandle, north central West Virginia, Charleston and all over the state as soon as possible.

“I’m very optimistic,” Barth said.” There’s a website called cyberseek.org that talks about this critical skill gap and so many jobs that are that aren’t even filled. Right now, that number is at around 313,700 jobs across the country, and there are 872 jobs open in West Virginia. … These numbers are going to keep going up, and the potential for growth is developing a cyber workforce in West Virginia is very good, because we are talking to each other and working together to align resources. …

“This is a great growth area. There are a lot of avenues in cyber. You don’t have to have a four-year computer science degree to find work in this field.”

Fairmont News Editor John Mark Shaver can be reached at 304-844-8485 or jshaver@theet.com.

Article originally published by WVNews on September 29, 2019