Bill Aims to Retrain Industrial Workers with In-Demand Cybersecurity Skills

By Roy Maurer Aug 4, 2017
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Companies that offer their employees cybersecurity training and education would receive tax breaks under a new legislative proposal.

The New Collar Jobs Act, sponsored by Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., would amend the IRS code to create a tax credit for businesses that enroll their workers in undergraduate or graduate programs that teach cybersecurity skills.

Current federal law offers no tax credits for employer-provided training or education for employees, according to the legislation. "New collar" jobs are those that don't necessarily require a traditional college degree but offer competitive salaries and career growth potential.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Using Government Resources for Employment and Training Programs]

The bill is an effort to alleviate the loss of traditional jobs—especially in the manufacturing sector—by preparing those workers for careers in industrial cybersecurity, a growing job field.

"With high unemployment impacting this sector and the many cyberthreats to power plants and manufacturing plants, our legislation will retool our workers for careers of the future," Lieu said.

Automated factories and industrial plants with a range of emerging technologies from robotics to distributed control systems have created unique employment needs. Employers are actively seeking workers with both cybersecurity knowledge and knowledge of industrial operations, according to multinational technology company Cisco Corporation.

There are roughly 300,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. today, according to research from cybersecurity company Symantec. That figure is expected to grow to 1.8 million jobs by 2022, according to a recent report from the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, a charitable trust serving the cybersecurity industry.

A growing security need is centered around the blurring of IT and operational technology (Internet of things) environments. According to IT research firm Gartner, the number, scale and sophistication of operational technology cyberattacks will continue to increase, putting connected industrial systems, building control systems, and energy systems at risk. There was a 250 percent spike in industrial automation and control system cyber incidents between 2011 and 2015.

"Mitigating advanced persistent threats in OT [operational technology] environments requires people who can bridge IT and OT," said Jon Stanford, a principal and director at Cisco Security Solutions. People who can bridge the gap between IT and OT are in extremely short supply, he added.

In addition to providing the tax breaks for employee training or education in cybersecurity, the bill would:

  • Double the funding for The CyberCorps Scholarship for Service Program, which offers scholarships to cyber-focused students in exchange for government service.
  • Offer student loan repayment to cybersecurity practitioners who take jobs in economically distressed counties.
  • Increase funding by $10 million to the Advanced Technological Education Program's information technology/cybersecurity category focused on community college education programs.
  • Give employers bidding for government contracts a 5 percent boost in their evaluation score for proposals if they use the cybertraining tax credit.

Training Your Own

Kirsten Hoyt, academic dean for the College of Information Systems and Technology at the University of Phoenix, urged employers to take a more active role in retraining their employees, either through apprenticeships, by offering flexible work schedules to attend classes or by encouraging workers to enroll in certificate programs.

"Businesses can incorporate a variety of strategies that give their employees the flexibility to seek out a program that fits their lifestyle," she said. "These policies can range from giving employees yearly stipends earmarked for professional development, blocking out time at the end of the workday to take an online class or even giving them a brief sabbatical to pursue a rigorous upskilling course at a boot camp."

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