Post-secondary Canadian institutions are increasingly offering cybersecurity courses to help fill the demand for infosec pros.
The latest is a Toronto-area not-for profit agency called Youth Employment Services (YES) that trains disadvantaged and vulnerable youth aged 15 to 29. Next month it starts a cybersecurity course with paid training in conjunction with IBM. Graduates of the free 13-week course will receive an IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate.
Called Career Jumpstart: Cybersecurity Analyst, the course is for at-risk youth — defined as those who self-identify with mental health concerns such as depression — and Ukrainian refugees who have a post-secondary degree, don’t have a full-time job, and are eligible to work in Canada.
IT experience and knowledge isn’t necessary, although it is an advantage.
There’s room for 100 students in the first cohort, YES chief executive Timothy Lang said in an interview. Because of COVID-19, much of the course will be delivered online, but he hopes some of it will soon be delivered in classrooms.
“We’re excited to train more at-risk youth in an area of great need and help close the [cybersecurity] skills gap,” Lang said in an interview.
Many surveys show there’s a shortage of cybersecurity workers in Canada, he said.
He agreed with a suggestion that most employers want experienced IT workers. But, he added, YES has partnerships with a number of companies for job placement. The charity has been able to convince them to look beyond their desire for experienced people in many fields, he said, particularly of the value of hiring at-risk and racialized youth.
It’s a win-win for both sides, he suggested: Companies get long-term employees, while youth have the satisfaction of employment. A job “changes their lives,” Lang said.
The cybersecurity program is funded by a commitment of just under $1 million from the province of Ontario’s Skills Development Fund.
While initially the cybersecurity course will only be open to youth in the Greater Toronto area, Lang hopes it will expand to other provinces. For example, he said, the YES cloud computing course is offered in Vancouver through a partnership with the B.C. Tech Association, an industry group which also delivers some training courses.
YES has been operating since 1968. Today it has an annual budget of just under $20 million that comes from the federal government, the Ontario government, the city of Toronto and private foundations.
It offers 25 free programs that run from two weeks to six months, ranging from how to find and keep a job, how to start a business, and digital literacy, to cloud computing (a program run in conjunction with AWS).
It also offers job placement. Lang claims a 90 per cent success rate.
The cybersecurity course is targeted at those feeling anxious, depressed, or struggling with mental health from the impact of Covid-19 or other life barriers.
“There’s a growing rate of youth with mental illness, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Lang said. “Pre-pandemic we already saw rates of mental illness in youth going up — it’s still unclear why — but the pandemic compounded that.”
“I think almost anyone who has an interest could be suited for digital literacy or cybersecurity [courses],” he added. “But in this case we thought we would focus on people who have some mental health issues that unfortunately has led to some of them staying home and not reaching out.”
YES wants to say, “‘You can change your lives and increase your worth and dignity,'” he said. A good job always does that, he added.