Turning Students Into Superheroes: The Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program at BRCC

Right now, as you read this, there are hackers hard at work trying to infiltrate everything from bank accounts to medical records to top-secret Department of Defense files. As you go about your day, the threat is present. In the business world, size isn’t a safeguard against hackers either. Small family-owned businesses and large corporations alike have felt the angst of being hacked. A Clark study at the University of Maryland revealed that every thirty-nine seconds, a hacker is attempting to do something nefarious on the internet. So, in a digital world where our lives intertwine with technology, what’s our defense against such invasions?

Part of the answer lies in an ever-growing group of students at Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) enrolled in the 12-week Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program that students can enter in conjunction with or after other IT studies and experience. The Cybersecurity Apprentices may look like regular scholars, but when you learn about the work they’re doing, the image of guardians or superheroes working behind the scenes to keep us safe seems more adequate. The catch is, if they’re doing their work well, we’ll most likely never know the dangers and chaos they prevented.

For those up to the challenge, the Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program is remarkably accessible and delivered via online courses. It’s cost-effective, and in many cases, even free to complete, and it provides a kickstart to a lucrative career in a skyrocketing industry. The Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program is an exciting opportunity for career changers, military veterans, women who are largely underrepresented in the IT industry, high school students looking for a low-debt or debt-free advanced education, and anyone else that’s interested in IT and cybersecurity. We sat down with Dan O’Brien, Cybersecurity Program Manager and Instructor at BRCC, to learn more.

Cybersecurity Student

Cybersecurity programming at BRCC was initially funded by a grant from GO Virginia. Students were learning the skills they needed, but there was a gap. “Students would get their cybersecurity certifications, and then they would tell me that all the companies they applied to wanted a year of experience. Students kept asking how they could go about doing that. We decided to bridge that gap in job experience by creating the apprenticeship program. Plus, the apprentices get paid while they’re gaining their year of experience,” O’Brien explains. 

O’Brien also knew that companies were in a bind with trying to fill cybersecurity positions from a depleted supply of qualified candidates. “The state of Virginia has 10% of the cybersecurity workers in the country. However, there are over 50,000 job openings in cybersecurity in the state that they can’t fill. Cybersecurity graduates also have the ability to telework anywhere they’re needed. With the experience and certifications, graduates can work high-level, high-paying jobs,” O’Brien says.

To solidify the Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program, BRCC joined forces with the City of Waynesboro, who provided matching funds and donated a building to the program. Together, they were able to attract Tiber Creek Consulting to the area. Tiber Creek is an IT outsourcing company that supports the Department of Defense. “Tiber Creek came down here to possibly hire two or three Cybersecurity Apprentices. Once they saw the building and the quality of the graduates, they hired ten graduates that now work out of the office in Waynesboro full-time with benefits and everything,” O’Brien explains. 

Cybersecurity StudentBesides offering the Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program at little or no cost to students, the perks go one step further. BRCC has also teamed up with a private company to provide local businesses an expedited state Registered Apprenticeship application process and grant money for qualifying businesses to take on new apprentices, according to the BRCC website. So whether you’re a person interested in the program or a business interested in securing apprentices that could transition to full-time employees, BRCC is providing astounding incentives. 

Through his cybersecurity work at the Department of Justice and traveling around the world teaching cybersecurity classes, O’Brien has experienced the benefits of the cybersecurity field firsthand. His excitement about the opportunities that a cybersecurity career can open for his students is evident when speaking with him. “There is so much upward mobility. It’s amazing. It really is a wide open field,” Dan shares. 

The only question is, are you ready to be a superhero?

To learn more about the Blue Ridge Community College Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program, check out the Waynesboro at Work podcast! Find the Waynesboro at Work podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, Breaker, PocketCasts, and Anchor.

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