Corporate and university partnerships aim to close jobs gap

Purdue's Pathmaker Internship Program brings the enterprise to the university for prime picking of talent and skills

Credit: flickr/Pau Sabria

Ann Bednarz's story on the best cities for finding a new job got me thinking about the past few articles I’ve written on college graduates and job searching. Yes, thousands of students are graduating from college and entering into the work force, in tech anyhow. There are also thousands of students graduating from high school, which means thousands of students are off to college, and a new cycle of high school seniors will soon be applying to colleges and universities across the country.

How do they choose the best college with the most progressive and innovative programs that will prepare them to enter into the cybersecurity workforce?

In order to give those students the knowledge they need to make the most informed decision, I’ve connected with university leaders and students who can speak to the attributes of different programs and the offerings that current students find most valuable.

Gerry McCartney, vice president and CIO, Purdue University and director of Purdue’s Pathmaker Internship Program, talked to me about the successes he has seen in helping bring students and companies together.

If you're like Cisco, Intel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, or ISAC then your organization is already one of the program's corporate partners (and I'd love to hear from you!). Some of you who attended this year’s RSA conference might have attended Intel Security's Senior Vice President Chris Young's talk about Purdue's program.

The gist of the program seems brilliantly simple. Companies or government entities opens a SOC or NOC that is then staffed by Purdue students who are in training for cybersecurity. The students, who are also employees of the entities, gain hands-on experience in tandem with their course work at the university.

“The companies are locating here because we have 38,000 students, about 13,000 of whom are in preparation for engineering or engineering-related degrees,” said McCartney.

One constraint for enterprises large and small is finding the qualified candidates they need to fill the jobs gap. For those larger organizations who can afford to build a SOC in West Lafayette, Ind., Purdue has an abundance of learners eager to get involved and learn in new ways.

[ ALSO ON CSO: Beyond technology: non-technical jobs in cybersecurity ]

"We are producing these folks. It starts here. Pathmaker is this ideal combination of while you are getting your actual education that your academic program is preparing you for, you are getting the hands-on experience, working and learning the things that are practical in the work place," said McCartney.

Most of us know someone who graduated with a degree in history to go work at an accounting firm. Or the English major who became a vice president at a hedge fund. For many students past and present, a lot of their degree course work isn’t constructive toward the degree program they are pursuing. For some, their degree has little or nothing to do with what turns out to be their life's vocation.

Pathmaker aims to change that for the cybersecurity degree candidates at Purdue.

Whether the experience serves solely as a means of developing skills or it turns out that the hosting entity wants to make the student a full-time offer, the opportunity is arguably mutually beneficial and has the potential to surpass what one can acquire through traditional classroom learning.

The interns are direct employees of the organization, so students who need to work don't have to flip burgers or dish out sundaes, like I did at Friendly's during my undergrad years. What's more important is that the internship allows students to realize whether their interest is indeed a real passion.

"The students do actual technical work, while earning pay that is higher than they would receive at typical fast-food or retail jobs, and many choose to work for the companies when they graduate," said McCartney.

Certainly there are other universities that are being equally as innovative in trying to help close the cybersecurity jobs gap, which is great because the cost of these partnerships, said McCartney, "Can be somewhat of a bite for small companies."

Many young folks, though, are more attracted to the younger, smaller, more entrepreneurial companies. The more smaller and mid-sized organizations are able to take advantage of establishing these partnerships with universities, the more well-rounded and prepared the next generation of professionals will be to conquer the future challenges of cybersecurity.

What was your internship experience? Connect with me to be a part of this weekly series that looks at the universities to consider for those who are in the process of doing college tours.

Cybersecurity market research: Top 15 statistics for 2017