Top Three Soft Skills in Cyber/IT

The latest from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in information security are projected to grow by 31 percent by 2029. Not a surprise after a record-breaking year of cyberattacks.

“Anything with a power switch that uses an electrical current, anything that connects online, anything that touches most of our individual daily lives,” says Dr. Keith Clement, a Criminology professor at Cal State Fresno and Chair of California Cybersecurity Task Force: Workforce Development and Education. “If it turns on and off, there’s some chance that there could be some vulnerability attached to the device.”

So as the country gets creative in its allocation of resources in response, from stackable cybersecurity certification programs, K-12 cyber curriculum, and boot camps to meet the growing need for skilled cyber/IT professionals in both the public and private sector, the dire need for non-technical skills in technical careers is growing at the same rate. Soft skills, or lack thereof, are quickly becoming another, very real vulnerability for the U.S.

Three Soft C’s in Cyber:

1. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking was selected as the top required soft skill in a Tripwire survey –  the ability to solve complex problems by breaking them down into smaller components. This is an innate ability for some people, but you can also develop this skill by being observant, learning how things work, asking questions, and analyzing decisions. 

2. Communication

Gone are the days – and movies – of sitting in a dark room, staving off breaches to save the world. Because, according to Careers in Cyber Security, not only is the ability to see relationships between data and people key in finding ways to respond proactively against cyber risks and threats but the written and verbal ability to share such findings with stakeholders and team members is imperative in both “selling” a solution, as well as eliciting the support and resources to implement one.

3. Collaboration

According to think CSC, collaboration is the best defense against cyber attacks. Hackers attempt to breach secure networks from multiple angles, so our defenses must also leverage diverse areas of expertise. From sharing information and active listening to asking for help, the quantifiable value of collaboration is easy math: Two heads are better than one.

Adaptability, creativity, and attention to detail also rank high in the non-technical must-haves in Cyber careers, arguably catapulting soft skills into equal-billing status as the unsung heroes in keeping us all safe.

Skillsgapp Case Study: San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools

How skillsgapp used mobile gaming to engage students in cybersecurity skills and corresponding career pathways

Overview

San Bernardino, the largest geographical county in the country, was hosting its annual STEM event, STEMapalooza, virtually in 2021 due to COVID-19. With two counties’ 4th-8th graders expected to attend, engagement was a concern, along with meaningful career awareness and pathways to support Southern California’s key industry sectors, including the increasingly in-demand, cybersecurity. 

To support this initiative, skillsgapp customized a mobile-friendly video game deployed during the event designed to simulate real-world cybersecurity scenarios with an emphasis on the “3 C’s” identified as industry’s skill priorities: Cyber Proficiencies; Critical Thinking; and Communication. Leaderboards, badges, and career facts and pathways were incorporated into gameplay, along with trackable performance metrics.

“It’s been a challenging and unusual year. Due to the virtual nature of our events, we decided to provide a hands-on, engaging tool that’s both fun for the students and that also supports the needs of industry through skills development for our students. The goal of Alliance for Education has always been to assure both students and industries that we are educating for the world of work.” 

Carol Tsushima, Administrator for the Alliance for Education at SBCSS

Blog image of game screens

Approach

Compelling narrative:
By introducing a fictional antagonist, BL4CKOUT, a notorious hacker threatening the privacy and security of STEMapalooza, we were able to establish a need for all attending to do their part in saving the event from destruction. In the absence of classrooms, this strategy was designed to promote community between two counties’ districts, all fighting for the same goal within each cyber challenge presented to them.

Awareness and Promotion:
Creating awareness of a never-been-done gaming component of this event included providing teachers with a game trailer to share with their students, a landing page with game registration information, and count-down emails to the teachers with game details and reward information to get the kids excited to play, registered, and their avatar designed.

Access:
The game was developed to be accessible on all devices from desktop to mobile to promote ease of play wherever the student may be.

Personalization:
Each player had the opportunity to select and personalize their own avatar based on skills-based job sectors needed in numerous industries, including automotive, aerospace, life sciences, and IT. 

Strategic Deployment:
STEMapalooza was an all-day event offering virtual classes and demonstrations. In between these events we deployed one of four five-minute challenges simulating a real-world cyber breach. Increasing in difficulty based on performance, students could see how they ranked among their peers, grade, and county.

Industry Support:
Upon completion of each challenge, students were rewarded for their achievements and offered corresponding career facts, salaries, and pathways based on their proficiencies.

Rewards and Incentives:
Those who successfully completed all four challenges received an in-game badge which could be redeemed for in-class rewards, like homework passes and extra credit.

Data Tracking:
Upon completion of the game, each player’s performance was trackable based on speed, engagement, and accuracy. Exit surveys were administered after the event to capture verbatims and quantifiable analysis to measure recall and interest.

Results
Results reflect the one-day event. Based on success, Hack Out BL4CKOUT will be used at subsequent county STEM events in 2021.

badge graohic

Unique Game Users:
5,285 (4.6 attended virtual event)

Sessions Played Across Users:
11,927

Average Playtime Per User:
37.38 minutes

Total Hours Player Across Users:
3,330 hours

Post-game Student Survey:
89% recall on in-game narrative and content 

“I learned that with my cyber skills, I can make $85,000 to $131,000 a year.”
6th Grade Student, San Bernardino, CA

“I learned that cybersecurity study programs teach you how to protect computer operating systems, networks, and data from cyber attacks.”
6th Grade Student, San Bernardino, CA

“I learned to protect your stuff, or people will get to it.”
7th Grade Student, Riverside, CA

“The game taught me that the skills I had a lot of fun doing could also make me a lot of money someday.”
6th Grade Student, Riverside, CA

Conclusion

• Mobile gamification is a proven platform to deliver Gen Z skills-based content with corresponding career awareness, trackable engagement, performance and recall, along with artificial intelligence to adapt to and promote their proficiencies.

• Providing in-game rewards and real-world incentives tied to player performance promotes engagement and skill proficiency.

• Linking career pathways and facts to demonstrated skill proficiency in real-time generates meaningful recall of actionable content.

• Students preferred the gaming experience over more traditional learning methods like videos and virtual lecture.

K-12: Much Ado About Congressional Funding

With the House’s approval of the American Rescue Plan Act, K-12 district and state education agencies were just lobbed a $126 billion pot of gold to help eradicate the negative impact of the pandemic on our kids. Most notably, for learning loss and returning to school safely, for which states are mandated to reserve 5% of their funding, and districts 20%, specifically for those Title 1 schools with a high concentration of under-resourced communities.

That’s about $520 per student for learning loss alone, but, unfortunately, researchers estimate it would cost five times that to provide the resources needed to really catch them up. This translates into intensive tutoring, summer school, extended day school and our more traditional methods (and salaries) of in-class, en-masse instruction.

But the pandemic is still here. And even for those districts who have opened, not all parents are sending their kids back full time. Here’s the other issue: For one year, school curriculum has “come to them”, on their ChromeBooks, laptops, iPads and phones, and for the most part, they got used to it. So much so,  American teens spend an average of nine hours a day in front of screens today, and more than seven of those are spent on mobile phones. Are they all spent doing homework? No. But as educators evaluate how to maximize efficiencies of catching our kids up, a case can be made for a ‘‘fish-where-the-fish-are’ strategy by continuing to leverage this teachable medium with meaningful content they care about, and will engage in.

A New, Digital Day

The Pew Research Center reports that “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.” And while under-resourced areas have suffered from limited access to WiFi over this last year, the federal government is also providing $3.2 billion to an emergency broadband connectivity fund as part of the bill, making accessibility soon to be a non-issue. 

While the value of in-person instruction and socialization should persevere, the pandemic forced the immediate implementation of virtual strategies, and our kids adapted. According to Bizly chief strategy officer Kevin Iwamoto, “Gen Z figured out how to develop communities and live in a virtual world.”

San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, the largest geographical county in the nation saw this first hand earlier this year. Hosting its annual, multi-district, STEMapalooza event virtually for the first time, engagement was a concern, as was support for their communities’ STEM-related career pathways. Enter ‘Hack Out BL4CKOUT’, a customized cybersecurity video game deployed at the event to be played from their mobile devices and Chromebooks, simulating real cyber events with a focus on critical thinking, communication, and cyber career facts. Over 3,000 hours of play were logged that day with kids’ asking for more.  Exit survey verbatims from 4th-8th graders who attended the event  ranged from, “WOW, I  had no ideaI I could be making $80,000 a year doing something I love when I grow up” to,  “Maybe I’ll go to a Cyber camp.”

Gamifying curriculum isn’t a new concept, but gamifying skills you can use toward grades, in-class rewards, and even a career – and can go wherever you go – is. This is especially important when considering reaching under-resourced, rural communities and inner cities that have been hit hard during the pandemic.

So if other state agencies and school districts can find a sustainable way to engage Gen Z by introducing virtual learning strategies that can entertain and educate by meeting them where they are – on their phones – that learning loss cost per student will be a lot more doable. 

And more fun.

Gaming apps skills development company skillsgapp inks contract with San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools

Soft skills and middle-skills gaming app development company skillsgapp has been selected by San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools (SBCSS) to provide its gaming apps focused on helping Generation Z gain the skills necessary to participate in the skills-based job sectors needed in numerous industries. Read More

Youth Apprenticeship Advantage: South Carolina

With America’s ever-growing skills gap, apprenticeships are becoming increasingly more important. Below is a feature on one state that’s using apprenticeships to its advantage. The U.S. Department of Labor awarded Apprenticeship Carolina in South Carolina $4.49 million over the course of four years to expand youth apprenticeships with 800 new youth apprentices and 230 youth pre-apprentices in high-growth industries in SC. These efforts are great strides toward building a qualified workforce pipeline and with the addition of mobile technology, we will be set to reach more youth talent. 

Youth Apprenticeships: A Win-Win

Written by: Kelly Steinhilper,
Vice President, Communications, SC Technical College System

According to SHRM, the combination of a tight labor market and the high cost of a college education is fueling interest in youth apprenticeships. This is great news for all, as apprenticeships are a win-win, offering students the chance to find stable middle-skills jobs that they like and can grow into, while employers create a happy workforce where they can groom from an early age.

Apprenticeship Carolina™ helps companies in South Carolina set up successful youth apprenticeship programs. In general, here’s how it works. High school juniors and seniors combine high school curriculum and career and technology training with critical on-the-job training performed at a local business. The students can pull in a paycheck through part-time work while earning a national credential in one of many high-demand occupations. They gain critical workforce experience while earning their high school diploma and some college credit. At the same time, South Carolina’s business and industry that need highly skilled workers can build a solid workforce pipeline for the future.

McLeod Information Systems, LLC, (MIS) provides a perfect example. MIS developed its cybersecurity youth apprenticeship program with two clear goals in mind: to grow a more robust information technology (IT) work base in Charleston, South Carolina, and to provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.

As a service-disabled, veteran-owned and -operated IT security business, MIS looked for ways to give back to the local community soon after its founding in North Charleston in 2016. MIS saw an opportunity to accomplish this goal with the 2019 announcement that Trident Technical College (TTC) would establish a new associate degree in cybersecurity.

MIS agreed to partner with TTC and Apprenticeship Carolina to develop a registered cybersecurity youth apprenticeship, becoming the first cybersecurity company in North Charleston to have apprentices enrolled at the college. 

Debbie McLeod, president and co-founder of MIS, has nothing but good things to say about apprenticeship and this dynamic partnership’s potential. When asked what inspired MIS to consider creating a youth apprenticeship program, McLeod responded, “We saw the number of unfilled cybersecurity positions, not just locally but worldwide, and we wanted to make a difference. There are 3 million openings worldwide and not nearly enough graduates to fill them. We knew that fresh, innovative approaches had to be taken to meet those workforce needs.” 

She continued, “At the same time, we looked at IT courses offered in local high schools. We saw that schools were not adequately equipping students to step out into the IT market, let alone the cybersecurity career field.” 

After speaking with Charleston County School District and Apprenticeship Carolina, MIS realized that with youth apprenticeship they could do both – grow a stronger IT work base and provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.

McLeod reported that she found the youth apprenticeship program to be rewarding on many levels. “For one, it allows us as a company to prepare and grow our future industry leaders. Everyone in the company sees the value of the program. For the company employees that work directly with the apprentices, it is the brighter part of the workday when they get to instruct these impressionable minds.”

As for the youth apprentices, it allows them to learn and progress in a career field to which they are generally not exposed. For instance, high school student Arthur Gibson, one of McLeod’s youth apprentices, shared that learning code was like learning a new language, and he loves it. When asked about the benefit of apprenticeship for high school students, Gibson said, “It shows you that education is not a tunnel but a road with many paths…the hands-on learning connects all the bookwork to the real world.”