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Montana high school girls encouraged to learn cybersecurity skills to bridge employment gap

Posted at 3:58 PM, Mar 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-15 17:58:09-04

HELENA – The demand for lucrative cybersecurity jobs is rising rapidly, but experts in the field say they’re having a hard time finding people to fill them.

In fact, a 2017 report shows more than 300,000 open cybersecurity jobs in America.

There’s also a severe lack of women in cybersecurity. Data from 2017 shows women make up just 11 percent of the workforce.

In Montana, there’s a push to bridge that gap by attracting more women to the field, starting with girls in high school.

“If you’re wondering, you know, what career field can I go into and have job security, cybersecurity is a great field to go into,” said Andy Hanks, the state’s chief security officer. 

This is the first year Montana is participating in Girls Go CyberStart, according to Hanks.

The national initiative is a free educational program to encourage girls to learn critical thinking and problem solving skills, using an online game.

It also offers the opportunity for at least ten high school girls in Montana to win scholarships.

Emery Grady is a freshman at Capital High School in Helena. She said her mom. who works for the state, has always stressed the importance of online safety and cybersecurity.

She showed MTN how to play the CyberStart game, which she has already completed.

Grady said she wants to study architecture one day and plans to use the skills she’s learning in that career field. But she said she also understands the need for more women in tech.

“Women in this field is really cool because they think different, I mean, not being rude or anything but women have a different perspective on everything like that,” she said. “And you want as many ideas possible to elaborate on things like this.”

Hanks agreed, saying the field of cybersecurity needs women more than ever.

He sees the impact of the workforce shortage in his own office, the State Information Technology Services Division. He told MTN the office has two open positions, and one has been open for more than six months.

In regards to the Girls Go Cyberstart program, Hanks said they’re encouraging teachers to coordinate clubs and help girls register. They’ll be provided with resources that can be used in the classroom or after school.

Students don’t need computer science experience to enter.

If enough girls at a high school complete enough of the challenges, they will win the chance for 50 other students, both boys and girls at their school, to play the game.

You can test the game out before registering at this link.