When high school resumes this September in New Brunswick, 1,500 students will have the opportunity to enroll in a three-year bilingual cybersecurity skills program linked to Cisco’s Networking Academy.
The program, announced Wednesday, is a collaboration between the province, Cisco – which is putting in $1.75 million – and CyberNB, a non-profit agency that promotes the cybersecurity sector in the province.
“The program will help solidify New Brunswick as a leading centre for cybersecurity in Canada and enable the province to keep up with the growing demand for cybersecurity jobs,” the partners said in a joint announcement.
For those enrolled, the courses will be part of regular school work, although they will be taken mostly online. Over three years some 225 hours of courses will be offered.
Graduates will earn an industry-recognized credential as a Cisco-Certified Cyber Ops Associate. Along the way, they can earn badges for passing Introduction to Cybersecurity, Cybersecurity Essentials, Networking Essentials and more.
Ultimately the goal is to equip graduates with credentials that will be recognized by organizations so they can step into a job, or by post-secondary schools
Course material will be set by Cisco and CyberNB, which has hired a program manager for English and French language school boards. The provincial education and early childhood development ministry will have oversight.
In an interview, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the program fits in with New Brunswick’s goal of offering more job-focused education opportunities to students.
”We’ve been looking for opportunities to build partnerships with corporations, non-profits with whole range of groups outside traditional government partners, because the global movement in education is moving towards personalization, and the digital experience to learning is not just talking about doing something but doing it as part of your studies,” he said. “The work Cisco is doing around cybersecurity is going to offer opportunities to 1,500 New Brunswick high school students to take hands-on cybersecurity courses as part of their regular high school work. That is exactly the sort of direction I want to see education move – showing students not just what the jobs of the future are going to be like, but letting them participate in those jobs today, giving them a grounding, finding out if this is what they’re going to do with their lives.”
The province is putting in some funding for the program, but ultimately, Cardy said he hopes it will be self-sustaining.
CyberNB has worked with the province before for “ad hoc” cybersecurity courses in some schools, said Tyson Johnson, chief executive, CyberNB. But this program is being offered to all high school students in the province. Cisco came to the non-profit suggesting its Networking Academy could be leveraged.
Started in 1997, the academy licences courses free of charge to colleges, universities, secondary schools, non-profits organizations, training centers, and even prisons. In Canada alone, it helps 235,000 learners gain skills in IT through 215 education institutions. Courses are designed to prepare students for Cisco certification, but also other industry-recognized certification exams. Cisco says courses are technology-agnostic; students can apply their skills in the workforce whether they are using Cisco products or not.
One difference with the academy, Johnson said, is that it is structured in a way that requires a teacher in every school it’s offered. This new program is online-only, so it can be offered to every student.
“We want to find ways to continue to address the skills gap, particularly since digital acceleration has become part of the economic recovery,” said Cisco Canada president Shannon Leininger in an interview. “What we’re doing with CyberNB and New Brunswick is a great blueprint for building strategic partnerships across government, private-public, not-for-profit sectors to really address some of the skills gap.”
Hopefully, she added, this model can be used in other provinces.
Cisco’s $1.75 million contribution will largely be used to fund the IT infrastructure for the program, which includes a learning management system for teachers who decide to participate in the program.
The Cisco funding also covers the salaries of the two program managers, who will work with IT and technology leads in each school board on how the Cisco program will integrate with their curriculums.
Two provincial community colleges are asking how they can create a dual-credit course that will help graduates enter a college-level IT program, Johnson said.
He added a number of cybersecurity companies in the province who know about the new program are pleased it will include “career-level training.”