Since I first joined the West Virginia National Guard in the early 1980s, it is fair to say a lot has changed. And yet, while politics, policies, technologies and world dynamics continue to evolve, two consistencies ring true through it all: The Guard serves and protects our state and nation from harm while creating opportunities to strengthen West Virginia’s future.
How we execute that mission and meet the ever-changing demands of new and emerging threats is drastically transforming. We now live in a world where the volume, speed and complexity of information have exploded. So too, have the challenges and opportunities we face, particularly in the cybersecurity and data realm.
According to McKinsey & Company, several billion datasets are breached and hackers program some 120 million new types of malware every year. Companies report thousands of attacks every month —ranging from trivial to life-threatening — including right here in West Virginia.
Emerging challenges — from election security to cyberdefense — are just the beginning. There are exponential opportunities for growth in the cyber, IT, big data and coding sectors to increase jobs and maximize economic development potential.
Think not only about our national security interests, but the current healthcare and financial systems or how we run business. The amount of personal data out there can be alarming if it falls into the wrong hands — from our medical records to credit card and banking information, travel itineraries, voting records, and on and on.
The era of big data is here. We are the drivers of transition in this revolutionary age. How we use, share and leverage opportunities in this new reality will help us safeguard a successful future for West Virginia, ripe with new talent, more jobs and greater economic prosperity.
Thanks to the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative (WVPEC), WV Forward and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, government, business and education leaders are coming together to address the impact of big data at the second annual Focus Forward: Preparing Today for the West Virginia of Tomorrow conference on September 16.
These discussions help us proactively explore the intersection of education and economic development and how strategic collaborations will train the highly skilled workforce needed to meet ever-evolving demands in this space.
With a significant number of cyberjobs currently vacant in West Virginia, now is the time to close the widening gap between skills and needs. A stronger connection from K-12 education to stackable training programs, certifications and higher education degrees to jobs will help us build this lasting talent pipeline.
Collaboration and innovative approaches are already underway to link students to businesses to jobs. Looking to K-12, WV Forward has mapped out all the cybertraining programs and job locations across the state, while offering tips to better prep youth for these jobs.
As less than 25 percent of eligible-age candidates can meet the requirements to join the military and the process to secure a security clearance remains complicated and onerous, it’s becoming more important to reach students at early ages.
Through the WVPEC and other partners, these resources are reaching our students in the classrooms and through other youth programs statewide.
While nearly 20 higher-ed institutions offer training programs or degrees in cybersecurity, the Community and Technical College System has worked with the U.S. Department of Labor to train and place apprentices in middle- to high-skilled IT jobs through the Apprenticeships in Motion program. Students then can create their own opportunities by joining the workforce straightaway or attaining an advanced degree.
The West Virginia National Guard is developing a Center of Excellence in Cybersecurity at Camp Dawson this year to train the military’s most advanced cyberexperts right here in our state. In addition, we have leveraged the talent pool within our force to train them in cybersecurity, in addition to their National Guard job skills, to develop a larger talent pool through partnerships with higher education institutions.
Efforts are also ongoing to recruit cyber-related companies to the state, adopt policies that protect West Virginia’s data and infrastructure from cyberattacks and reduce the backlog of security clearances to more efficiently fill job openings.
It’s an exciting time to be in West Virginia as we come together to discuss how best to collaborate, communicate and innovate the cyber, IT and big data sectors.
These discoveries and innovative solutions will undoubtedly impact the future of our workforce, our economy and the way we educate our students. As long as we continue to keep our focus forward and cultivate strategic partnerships that lead to innovation, we can harness the power of big data to strengthen West Virginia’s promising future.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with the WVPEC, WV Forward and the Benedum Foundation to bring this message to the forefront for business, education, and legislative leaders. I hope that you will be able to join the conversation on September 16.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer is the adjutant general of West Virginia.