Nonprofit offers veterans free upskilling for cybersecurity careers

NPower partners with AT&T in Dallas to create a highly-trained tech workforce

With a large number of businesses continuing to have their employees work from home, keeping their computer systems up and running, and safe from cyber attacks and hacking, has become a top priority for businesses. In July, more than nine-thousand information technology workers were hired or called back to work across the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the way we work, the cybersecurity field, in particular, was already one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the country, with the growth rate forecast to be 32 percent higher than the average job growth of all other industries over the next eight years.

The field remains a top job-creator and, despite the millions of people unemployed, there is a still a shortage of workers with the right skills to fill those jobs, as this interactive tool from Cyberseek demonstrates.

There are a lot of paths for people to acquire the tech skills they need to be a part of the IT and cyber workforces. Nonprofit NPower‘s mission to make certain underserved communities, veterans, and military spouses don’t miss that opportunity.

NPower is a national nonprofit with a goal of moving people from poverty to the middle class by helping them gain the tech training they need and then placing them in quality jobs. The organization serves adults 18 to 25 years old, some may have college degrees, some with just high school diplomas, in seven states.

Dallas: Preparing Veterans for a Cybersecurity Career

Dallas is one of the fastest growing digital hubs in the country, ranking fifth for tech labor force, and it also happens to have one of the biggest concentrations of veterans. So, backed by a $200,000 AT&T grant, NPower is focused on developing a local workforce of cybersecurity professionals from people with military backgrounds.

“As more people use digital communications to stay connected during the COVID-19 crisis, our country needs more cybersecurity professionals who are ready to help lead the fight against cyber crime,” says Roger Thornton, Chief Technology Officer and VP for AT&T Cybersecurity.

“Military veterans are perfect candidates for these positions because they already have many of the technical skills required for a career in information technology. At AT&T, we are proud to employ a large number of military veterans, and we are pleased to be working with NPower to prepare even more veterans for a rewarding career that will allow them to help protect our critical digital infrastructure,” Thornton adds.

It Starts with Basic Training

The path begins with NPower’s “basic training”, also known as Tech Fundamentals, which is a 16-week program teaching them industry-recognized in-demand certifications such as CompTIA and an IT Generalist Apprenticeship credential. Tech Fundamentals also includes a paid internship, mentoring, and job placement.

The training is free. Between 50 to 55 students each session are accepted and classes are virtual for now because of the pandemic. Classes are held either four hours in the morning or afternoon, giving students an opportunity to continue working while they’re going through the classes.

“Our focus is to get them those certifications that are widely recognized, nationally third-party verified, and in this case, we use CompTIA,” says Russ Medina, executive director of NPower Texas. “We’re also revising curriculum where it suits and meets the needs of our corporate partners.”

“Those companies seeking to work with veterans or military spouses look at the soft skills that have been the hallmark of what you’d expect from those who have been in the service—maturity, teamwork, collaboration, willingness to get through difficult challenges. Those soft skills have been recognized by AT&T and they’ve been very interested in working with us in cybersecurity.”

After completing the Tech Fundamentals course, veterans and military spouses with at least two years of tech experience or a college degree qualify to apply for the AT&T-funded cybersecurity program which launches July 27.

25 veterans and military spouses will be able to participate in the free program. Over 18 weeks, these students learn CompTIA Security+ and Linux+ and they have the opportunity to earn a Cybersecurity Support Technician credential. The program also includes a 12-week paid internship program.

NPower Texas boasts a 90 percent retention rate, and 85 percent of its graduates get jobs. Salaries for graduates are boosted by at least 50 percent.

Recruiting from Underserved Communities is a Priority

The cybersecurity program usually attracts more than double the number of available spots. NPower aggressively recruits women and women veterans of color for the program. “We’re seeing more demand in the market,” says Patrick Cohen, NPower’s vice president of strategic partnerships. “Even more so in this climate, companies are looking for women, Black, LatinX, veterans, and military spouses. We’re a great fit.”

“(This program means) the front line of our country is protecting our networks. It really aligns well for veterans to get this skill set in a short period of time and transition into more than a half-million cyber roles that are going unfilled,” says Cohen.

While Medina isn’t an NPower graduate himself, he is an Army veteran, and comes from a multi-generation family who served—both his grandfathers, uncles, father, cousins, son, and grandson. He is particularly proud of this program and partnership with AT&T.

“When I was retiring, I was actually pursued. I was very fortunate to have job offers but that’s not always the case. There’s isn’t enough time for service members to prepare to get out of the military to partner up with civilian and corporate jobs,” Medina says.

“Finding training programs and nonprofits like NPower fill that gap to meet and train them as they’re coming out of the service.”