Andrea Vega has started Mount Royal University's new cyber security certificate program. Mount Royal University photo

Published: September 24th, 2019

For the past few years, Andrea Vega has been a Calgary-based promoter of a gated community in Mexico. But this week the 30-year old is back in school studying for a new career as a cybersecurity professional.

She is one of 30 students enrolled in the first of two new cybersecurity certificate programs at Calgary’s Mount Royal College, run in conjunction with Toronto’s York University. Both combine online and classroom training, offering the opportunity for recognized certificates in less than a year.

“I wanted to find something that created meaning, a purpose,” Vega said in an interview. “Eventually we will all need some kind of protection when it comes to the cyber world. It will give me the opportunity to make a difference in protecting people’s assets, or a company’s assets.”

Meanwhile, today Toronto-based Seneca College and the city’s financial sector announced an eight-month cybersecurity certificate course will start in January aimed at increasing the number of trained people to serve the banking and insurance industry.

As announced earlier this year, Toronto’s Ryerson University will begin offering courses early next year in nearby Brampton offering cybersecurity training to the private sector.

These programs are just some of the efforts Canadian post-secondary institutions are offering to help meet the demands from IT departments for cybersecurity expertise.

Estimates of the size of the so-called talent gap vary, but no one doubts that at least in the short term, organizations need more people to deal with increasing online threats.

While universities and colleges are increasing the number of students enrolled in computer science courses, cybersecurity isn’t the focus. So a number of institutions are offering certificate courses in this area aimed not just at IT grads but also at those already working who want to shift into a cybersecurity-related job.

In addition to the hope of better salaries, these certificate courses may offer another benefit: A path to passing the exam to be a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

As extension courses, they offer the opportunity for students to keep their day jobs. That will be essential for most because these courses aren’t inexpensive. The Mount Royal program offers two three-part courses: Cyber Security Fundamentals and Cyber Security Advanced (which starts in January). Each section of the course is $995, for a total of $2,985. Seneca College charges $6,500 for its course.

Brad Mahon, dean of Mount Royal’s faculty of continuing education, said the idea of creating cybersecurity courses stemmed from the downturn in the Alberta economy and the need to offer workers opportunities to move their careers away from the energy sector.

Looking around for an institution to partner with, it came across the cybersecurity program offered by York University’s school of continuing studies.

In fact, some Albertans were already enrolled in the York program, traveling to Toronto several times a year for some course work. So, Mahon said, it made sense to work with the Toronto institution to offer a co-branded certificate from both schools.

Meanwhile, last year an industry association called Toronto Finance International began looking for ways to solve the skills shortage in that sector. In an interview, the association’s CEO, Jennifer Reynolds, noted that the financial sector is the second biggest employer of cybersecurity talent after governments.

For training, the group felt that community colleges move faster than universities, so it put out a request for proposals to Toronto-area institutions to fashion an eight-month program. Seneca won. An industry group including the Bank of Montreal, CIBC, the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), Royal Bank, Scotiabank, Sun Life, TD Bank Group, and TMX Group helped shape the curriculum.

Applicants are already being screened for the course, which starts in January. Candidates will be required to have an Ontario college advanced diploma or a university degree, ideally in engineering or computer science.

But the industry is also looking for people with transferable skills, such as the ability to work in teams and think outside of the box, Reynolds said.

Ranjan Bhattacharya, Seneca’s dean of the faculty of applied science and engineering technology, said some students will be financial industry workers with commerce degrees. There’s an intense one-week introduction to IT course for them.

The first class will hold between 30 and 40 students. The plan is to offer at least two cohorts a year.

The certificate that successful students get will meet the graduate certificate requirements of Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities. It should equip graduates to apply for jobs such as cybersecurity professor, threat and intelligence analyst, network security specialist, risk analyst, security administrator, and ethical hacker.

Vega didn’t jump into the Mount Royal program quickly. She did research, networked and developed two infosec pros as mentors. Still, the cost made her pause. “Those are my savings,” she said. “I am gambling, hoping it will open the doors for future employment. It’s tough in Calgary now.”

After passing the course she hopes to get an entry-level job on a cybersecurity team and eventually get her CISSP designation.

“I am terrified … I am happily terrified, but the city is welcoming technology and people in the industry seems to be promoting women into it … It’s the best decision I’ve made so far.”



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