Pilot cybersecurity training program for women to recruit third cohort

A pilot program aimed at training women and non-binary persons for careers in cybersecurity will soon start recruiting its third group of students.

The program, offered to students in computer science and related courses in seven Canadian post-secondary institutions, should start looking for candidates next month for the fall academic year, said Vivian Lee, team lead for work integrated learning e-learning delivery at the Information and Community Technology Council (ICTC).

“It’s designed in collaboration with universities and colleges to re-balance the gender issue within the cybersecurity sector,” she said. “It provides a stronger pipeline of employees for the digital sector, specifically within the SOC (security operations centre) analyst cloud security sector.”

The eight-month academic program, called ‘Cybersecurity Training and Work Integrated Learning,’ includes a 16-week work placement or experiential learning opportunity with the goal of making students job-ready on graduation.

The program is funded by Microsoft Canada and the federal government, with input from a group of Canadian post-secondary institutions, and implemented by ICTC.

“There is a large need for new staff in this sector,” Lee said, “so we collaborated with our community sectors and put together this plan that allows us to be part of that solution.”

The program offers hard and soft skills training, including mentorship from technology subject matter experts and advice on networking and how to apply for jobs.

Students are given access to three Microsoft certifications in cloud security infrastructure.

As part of the program, ICTC also supports the development of Women in Cybersecurity clubs on each school’s campus so students can meet others interested in the field.

The program was first offered to 56 students at the University of Calgary and Toronto Metropolitan University in 2022. Of those, 36 graduated.

Last fall, the number of institutions expanded to include the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), Winnipeg’s Red River College, the University of New Brunswick, New Brunswick Community College and Halifax’s Dalhousie University. Over 150 students were accepted. That cohort is about to graduate.

The third class, about to be recruited, will also have about 150 students.

“A lot of the students that were recruited were in their final year, so they’re looking for their next step in their professional career,” said Lee. “This is a bridge between their undergrad and hopefully a [full-time] job.”

Do women and non-binary persons in IT want cybersecurity jobs? “We have no trouble with student interest,” Lee replied. Some have “mind-boggling talent and brains,” are doing double majors in computer science and physics “and say they want to drive satellites for a living.”

But, she admits, “the reality is it (cybersecurity) still very much a boy’s club” — and women know it.

Students at BCIT talk about the “dwindling number of women” in the IT degree program because they feel isolated and shut out of a lot of opportunities by their male colleagues.

“So this [program] is a way for us to focus on the positives and make sure that students are given opportunities. Given the opportunity, these women excel.”

She admitted that most employers looking for cybersecurity pros want someone with experience.

“It’s a double-edged sword: People want you to have experience, but they’re not willing to give it to you. And then they complain the job market doesn’t have enough qualified candidates.

“Our responsibility is to train up these students as much as possible within the time frame and resources that we have. But we also have very formal relations with community partners that are employers in the sector to show them [employers] what is possible.

“We will always see people that have unreasonable expectations of what they want their recruits to be able to do, but that’s not solution-oriented. We’re trying to show them that taking six to eight months to train somebody to your specific standards can have a significantly long-term return on your investment and would allow you to be part of the solution.

“It’s important that especially small employers consider this investment.”

The ICTC is a not-for-profit group that advocates the use of technology to drive Canada’s economic growth.

It says last year just over 4,000 post-secondary students received job placements with Canadian employers through its Work Integrated Learning courses.

The council produces reports on labour market forecasts, smart cities, sustainable digital economy, foreign investment, inclusive smart economies, gender equity, educational technology, and others.

It is funded by the federal government, several provinces, and companies including Microsoft, Sophos, and KPMG.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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