October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and Colorado Succeeds is proud to work in partnership with industry-leading businesses investing in creating impactful, in-demand career-connected learning opportunities for Colorado learners.
To learn more about this critical topic, we sat down with cybersecurity expert and a co-founder and partner of ForceNow, Jonathan Steenland, who shared the steps they are taking to support the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.
Tell us about ForceNow.
ForceNow started at the beginning of the pandemic by myself and my business partner, Rear Admiral Hank Bond (US Navy, Ret.), because we were passionate about two things:
- Providing military-grade cybersecurity services, both exceptional technology and human intelligence, particularly for small businesses. There was a 400 percent increase in cyberattacks over the pandemic, and we saw an opportunity to support clients in finding a solution. From an economic perspective, small businesses make up the lifeblood of America, particularly in Colorado. If we protect those businesses, we protect our communities.
- We believe we need to go a step further and help develop the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.
Why should we focus on cybersecurity and career-connected learning for the next generation?
There are more than 700,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the US alone.
ForceNow works with local high schools and colleges to expose individuals to cybersecurity careers and help fill that gap. My partner and I hired Bill Tomeo, a former Colorado Springs School District 11 Career and Technology Education (CTE) instructor, and one of the country’s first high school teachers to implement a cybersecurity CTE career pathway. He is helping to build that curriculum, including internships and apprenticeships, at middle and high schools.
Colorado has a great model that allows a high school student to graduate with college credit, work-based learning experiences, and an industry certification. ForceNow is working closely with several rural high schools to help build curriculum aligned to industry certifications, and support learners in planning for their careers.
Why are you involved with Colorado Succeeds?
Colorado Succeeds’ role in bridging the gap between education and businesses is so crucial, because it’s not easy. Industry and education operate in very different ways, with very different audiences.
In today’s world, there is a massive need to bridge the gap [between school and career] and expose kids at the earliest age – even elementary, and definitely middle and high school – to high-paying career opportunities. The best way to do that is for employers and employees to have a channel into classrooms.
When I visit high school classrooms and ask if students have considered a career in cybersecurity, I see maybe one hand. Just by sharing my career experience and the opportunities available in cybersecurity, I ask the same question at the end of my time, and I often see more than 10 hands raised.
There aren’t substantial resources in either the public and private sectors explaining what a cybersecurity career is and how to access it. Because cybersecurity is so broad and so deep and the pathways aren’t well defined, it can be daunting for students to know where to start in a career in cybersecurity. There is a real opportunity for us to partner with Colorado Succeeds to help highlight and advocate for incredible career opportunities. By doing so, the roads to cybersecurity opportunities will become bigger and more populated, which helps both students and employers.
What strengths do you see happening in education to support the future of cybersecurity, and where does the state have room to grow?
Two things are going well in the state right now:
- There are pockets of schools throughout Colorado that are really making a diligent effort to do what we’re talking about. ForceNow partners with excellent schools, like Peyton and Calhan High Schools, who bring us in as partners, working with their teachers and students to provide internships, and ultimately jobs.
- At the state level, with the help of Colorado Succeeds and the Office of the Future of Work, there is work being done to bring formal apprenticeship programs to Colorado and streamline the process and the funding for those programs. We appreciate the state’s recognition and investment in apprenticeships as a need and opportunity. Other states aren’t even seeing this as a need yet.
We see a clear need to streamline and standardize opportunities to engage students and schools in this work. We need to take the models that are working and highlight and recognize them, and then replicate them – and there’s a movement working on that.
What are you most proud of in your work for this generation of learners?
The work we are doing with high schools and colleges. This is not an easy thing, regardless of the maturity of the schools, and certainly not easy for us as a start–up.
We believe it is essential for communities and business to be a part of the education model. In fact, it’s critical for our success. We’re all in.