Cybersecurity: The Best Pandemic-Proof Career For People of Color?

As U.S. workers adjust to historically high unemployment numbers due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, many are seeking new careers in Pandemic-proof industries, mostly in technology. But the tech industry isn’t known for diversity, so communities of color hit particularly hard by COVID might be surprised that cybersecurity could be the best career option for them in 2020 and beyond.

Programs like the Merritt College Cybersecurity Program in Oakland, Calif., are providing hope for communities of color disproportionately affected by COVID. Merritt’s program is seeing a surge in fall registration, as well as a spike in companies coming to them for cybersecurity experts, as they move more operations and business online.

More than 70% of the Merritt program’s students are of color, and the program was founded on the principle that diversity makes cybersecurity more effective. The program’s founders believe that viewing threats and cyberattacks from many different viewpoints makes defending against them more successful and that individuals with experience navigating different cultures may be best suited to quickly address attacks.

This belief in diversifying cybersecurity is what led the Consortium of Information Systems (CISE) to partner with Merritt College to establish its cybersecurity program. The program’s students have consistently performed in the top 5% in annual National Cyber League (NCL) cyber game competitions for the past three years.

“We’re delighted to see that word is getting out about our success with both students and employers, and that enrollment is increasing during this tough economy,” said Jim Cates, a rare executive of color in the tech world, who is a co-founder of the Merritt College Cybersecurity Program. “We provide a dynamic, people-centered cybersecurity program that inspires students from diverse backgrounds to bring their whole selves to a career that will help make the world a safer place, and this message really resonates in these challenging times.”

Opportunity In A Pandemic

A fast-growing field even before COVID, cybersecurity is on track to explode:

· Cybersecurity Ventures predicted late last year that there would be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs globally by 2021.

· U.S. companies’ appetite for cybersecurity experts has been rising rapidly in real time during the past five months because of increased risks and cyber threats resulting from moving more operations online during the Pandemic

· With the proper training, workers from industries such as retail, restaurants, hotels and the gig economy that have been decimated by COVID, could shift to careers in cybersecurity to help fill this void.

Arlita Shelby, a recent African American graduate of the Merritt program who formerly worked in tickets sales for arena events at the Oakland Coliseum, says she understands why programs like Merritt’s are so appealing during these times. Shelby transformed her life just before the Pandemic hit and now works in cybersecurity at Satellite Healthcare in San Jose, Calif.

“What drew me to the program was not only that the industry is secure and interesting, but also the program’s commitment to diversity in helping fill the industry gap in terms of the number of women and people of color working in professional positions,” said Shelby. “These things are really important during COVID, and I understand why people might now be even more attracted to the program, since there is a high demand and bright future for cybersecurity, and most jobs in the field can be done remotely.”

Displaced workers hoping to duplicate Shelby’s success may also find two-year programs like Merritt’s appealing, and may want to seek out programs with an active internship placement program like Merritt’s that gives students experience working on a real cybersecurity team while in school.

Employers Are Expanding Quickly

Employers such as ConSol USA are looking not only to add cybersecurity interns and experts during this challenging time but to also diversify their teams to meet their challenges.

“We’ve never seen a more critical need for cybersecurity in business than we’re seeing now, and companies like ours need to be able to move fast to build teams to address it,” said Robert Tibbs, founder and CEO of ConSol USA. “Programs such as Merritt’s allow us to quickly recruit diverse cybersecurity experts and interns who’ve learned from top industry experts, so we’re confident they can hit the ground running.”

Merritt’s Cybersecurity Program is accepting applications for Fall 2020. Due to the COVID, all classes will be fully online for Fall 2020.

Hennig’s work has been published in the Huffington Post and Publisher’s Weekly. He also wrote the feature films The Hot Flashes (2013) and Stage Mother (2020).

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