A rocket scientist hacks the cybersecurity labor crisis

The CEO of Girls Scouts of the USA may have cracked the code on where to find future cyber fighters.

A rocket scientist hacks the cybersecurity labor crisis
US Navy

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to fill jobs. But it takes one to figure out how the world will fill its 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs that are predicted to be open by 2021.

Sylvia Acevedo, a former rocket scientist for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California — and now CEO of Girl Scouts of the United States of America, has partnered with Palo Alto Networks on a stroke of genius: training young girls on cybersecurity.

With the introduction of 18 new cybersecurity badges in 2018, Girls Scouts of all ages (K-12) will be able to explore opportunities in STEM while developing problem-solving and leadership skills, according to a press release announcing the program.

The growing cybersecurity workforce shortage

The cybersecurity workforce shortage is expected to grow from 1 million job openings in 2014 to 3.5 times that number between 2017 and 2021, according to a report by Cybersecurity Ventures.

Currently, the U.S. employs nearly 780,000 people in cybersecurity positions, with approximately 350,000 current cybersecurity openings, according to CyberSeek, a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), a program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Technology leaders and academia are exploring all conceivable options to try and close the cyber skills gap. CIOs are attempting to cross-train their IT teams. Universities are creating new two-year, bachelor's, online, and master's degrees in cybersecurity programs. But there's no single, large organized (and receptive) talent pool for the colleges and cybersecurity industry from which to recruit.

Through cybersecurity, Girl Scouts can help make the world a better place

Acevedo leads the 100-year-old corps of 2.8 million Girls Scouts made up of 1.8 million girl members and 800,000 adult volunteers — with a mission that builds girls courage, confidence, and character with the goal to make the world a better place.

The cybersecurity field is an opportunity for girls to make a measurable difference in the world. Cybercriminal activity is one of the biggest challenges that humanity will face in the next two decades. The U.S., and the rest of the world, needs to get young people thinking about how they can help society — digitally.

If Girls Scouts of the USA is successful — and there's every reason to believe they will be — then the girl members will grow up to view working in cybersecurity the same as being police officers, firefighters and other occupations that serve communities.

There are Girl Scout groups and troops in more than 92 countries around the world. Girl Scouts of the USA is also affiliated with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) — which numbers 10 million girls and adults globally.

“At Girl Scouts of the USA, we recognize that in our increasingly tech-driven world, future generations must possess the skills to navigate the complexities and inherent challenges of the cyber realm," said Acevedo.

"From arming our older girls with the tools to address this reality to helping younger girls protect their identities via internet safety, the launch of our national cybersecurity badge initiative represents our advocacy of cyber preparedness ― and our partnership with Palo Alto Networks makes a natural fit for our efforts. It is our hope that our collaboration will serve to cultivate our troops’ budding interest in cybersecurity by providing access to invaluable knowledge that may otherwise not be available to girls ― in communities across the United States,” she said.

Girl Scouts partner with Palo Alto Networks

Palo Alto Networks deserves credit for collaborating with the head of the Girl Scouts and throwing their weight behind the new program.

“Our mission to prevent cyber attacks and restore trust in the digital age is only achievable if we make meaningful investments not just in technology, but also in people," said Mark D. McLaughlin, chairman and CEO of Palo Alto Networks, in the company's press release. "Our collaboration with Girl Scouts of the USA to develop curriculum for the first-ever national cybersecurity badges will positively influence the future of our industry by helping build tomorrow’s diverse and innovative team of problem solvers equipped to counter emerging cyber threats.”

If the Boy Scouts of America are paying attention to their counterparts, then credit the Girl Scouts of the USA for lighting a fire underneath them.

In a decade from now and beyond, society will owe a debt of gratitude to Acevedo, Girl Scouts of the USA, and Palo Alto Networks.

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