by John Mark Shaver STAFF WRITER
FAIRMONT — Hoping to attract more students and professionals to the cybersecurity field, TechConnect West Virginia unveiled its WV Cybersecurity Workforce Strategic Initiative Tuesday morning.
The initiative, completed with cooperation from the West Virginia Office of Technology, West Virginia High
Technology Consortium, West Virginia National Guard and West Virginia Forward, focuses on training and employing state residents in the cybersecurity field.
Anne Barth, TechConnect West Virginia executive director, said the initiative will take advantage of a growing market to benefit the state’s economy.
“These are the opportunities in cyber-learning majors for students and people interested in expanding into a new career or starting a career,” Barth said. “What we’re also doing is trying to tie into opportunities with industry in the state. We know there are open jobs. … (We want) students to know that if they get a degree, they can also get a job here in West Virginia.”
Barth said cybersecurity is a growing field that state residents need to take advantage of sooner rather than later.
“These are where good jobs are in the future, and we want our students to know about it,” she said. “We want workers who might want to migrate to a new career after getting some training to be able to fill the skills gap who might want these jobs.
“They pay well; they’re recession-proof; and they offer opportunities for West Virginia to add industries and more federal agencies in this sector by showing that we have a skilled workforce that’s ready to fill these open jobs.”
The release of the initiative took place at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center, with Barth accompanied by representatives from Fairmont State University, West Virginia University, the West Virginia High Technology Foundation and dozens of other organizations from across the region.
Jim Estep, president and CEO of the High Technology Foundation, said the initiative fits in perfectly with his goal of diversifying the state’s economy, especially when it comes to attracting even more cybersecurity companies to the region.
“What’s key is that we have to have better economic diversification in West Virginia,” Estep said. “That has to include participation in some of the fastest growing economies in the country, and the fastest growing economy is the knowledge sector.
“Recruiting initiatives like the Commerce Department’s cybersecurity program in Fairmont, for example, and bringing in a couple hundred jobs in that particular sector is doing exactly what we’re hoping to do, and that’s putting down some anchor points.”
Estep said that while some of the jobs are already here, they aren’t being taken advantage of by the state’s workforce. The initiative’s focus on education will better prepare students for the real world upon graduation, giving young professionals the chance to join a good field without leaving the state, he said.
“One of the biggest challenges for the state of West Virginia is — and has been — our workforce demographic,” Estep said. “We didn’t do a good enough job of creating opportunities around the state for our educated residents to stay here and work. They left, leaving us with a workforce demographic that’s unbalanced. We’re kind of in the hole, so to speak.
“Working on these programs, trying to recruit the workforce that we have and trying to draw back the people who have left, is critical, and events like this are really important steps in helping to achieve those objectives.”
Barth said that with 900 cybersecurity jobs available in West Virginia alone, she hopes everyone at Tuesday’s event left with a plan to make the field more accessible and attractive to the state’s residents.
“We want to talk about the work going forward in 2019,” Barth said. “This is going to require an outreach effort on all of our parts to help students understand there are opportunities in cybersecurity and what you need to be doing now to make sure you’re qualified for those jobs.”
Staff writer John Mark Shaver can be reached at 304-844-8485 or [email protected].