From education to implementation

How Houston can bridge the cybersecurity talent gap

Like a lot of cities, Houston might have a talent problem when it comes to cybersecurity. Getty Images

According to Inc.'s Emerging Risks Survey, the talent shortage jumped to first place as the top risk for businesses worldwide in 2019. More specifically, a recent study reported a gap of almost three million global cybersecurity jobs.

Cyber attacks continue to skyrocket but there are nowhere near enough cybersecurity professionals to handle all the threats. The field has plenty of job openings, companies are desperate for talent and employees can eventually earn $95K a year, and often more. So, what's the issue?

Employers struggle to keep employees up to speed on the latest technologies and skill sets needed to succeed and thrive in the rapidly changing and evolving business landscape. To remain competitive, Houston businesses must attract qualified workers to fill these positions that range from cybersecurity to industrial technology, engineering and medicine. And the earlier we can reach them, the better.

One way to address the talent gap is for Houston employers, academic institutions and parents to share the responsibility to prepare young children to be adaptable. While these ideas are for the cybersecurity space, they can be applied to any industry.

Parents: Pay attention to child's interests at a young age

Encouraging creativity and exploration at home is the first step to fostering children's potential career interest. Children show at a young age what they are interested in. Do they color and draw? They may like a more creative field like graphic design. Nurturing artistic interests at home can be as simple as letting kids make projects with household supplies such as paper towel rolls, or old clothes and asking them about their creations.

Or, do they tinker and take things apart? Foster those engineering and computer interests through career days, science fests, coding camps and through trips to retail locations like Apple and Microsoft. When parents, guardians, older siblings, aunts, or uncles express excitement in their interests, children are more likely to feel encouraged and continue finding their passion over time.

Educators: Encourage career exploration

Educators are continuously working to prepare students for the workforce by asking the persistent question of how do we teach students about jobs and careers that haven't even been created yet? We can't. We don't prepare them for jobs, but we provide them with the skills to be adaptable, flexible, creative, critical, collaborative and curious. At The Village School in Houston, we have an internship program that helps students gain a better sense of their future, even for those who are unsure about their career path.

Businesses: Shape the next workforce through educational partnerships

Local businesses must have relationships with schools and organizations. Reflect on what your business can do to better prepare the next generation of talent. Go beyond the norm of only involving college-age students and also partner with local K-12 schools to broaden outreach even more extensively. This will work to help students have a better idea of potential careers and can also be a great recruitment tool. Offer internships to students, externships to teachers and be vocal about the skills and foundation necessary to succeed at your workplace. The talent shortage can't be fixed overnight but businesses can work to be proactive in creating the partnerships and programs needed.

At Village, we currently have partnerships with companies like Cisco, Houston Methodist Hospital, and Pimcore. Our students learn directly from these companies exactly what a career can look like and gain a better sense of what expectations are in the real world. With Cisco, students are able to acquire experience within in-demand careers in computer science, information technology and cybersecurity to see first hand what these jobs consist of.

Dell Technologies recently published a report saying 85 percent of the jobs in 2030 haven't been invented yet. That's an intimidating statistic for today's learners — and businesses. Together, parents, business executives, and educators can prepare the next generation of workers to succeed while combating the crucial need to fill jobs with passionate and capable employees.

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TeKedra Pierre is the internship coordinator at The Village School.

Aaryan Patel, an incoming senior at The Village School, has been running his business since he was a freshman. Photo via tidemedia.tech

By the time 17-year-old Aaryan Patel, who will be a senior this fall at The Village School, won first place at The University of Houston Bauer College of Business' annual Think Tank competition this year, he'd already had his business on solid footing for a couple of years. Patel founded Tide Media in 2016, and he's been growing his company ever since.

The business offers consulting and installation for smart home devices, working with customers one-on-one to determine their needs and interests and doing everything from purchasing equipment for buyers all the way to full installation and integration of the technology within a home's existing devices.

"I started in the ninth grade," says Patel. That's when his dad started buying multiple smart home devices to control their lights and thermostat. "I saw how convenient it was, and how it makes for a more connected experience. It feels really futuristic."

Patel's father works in IT, so he understood how to troubleshoot when devices didn't work as planned. That got Patel to thinking how someone with less tech know-how would cope with the same situation.

"Not everyone has the competency [to troubleshoot]," he explains. "Maybe they don't have the time to learn, or they just don't know enough about technology. A lot of people come from fields where there isn't a focus on computers."

Patel, like his father, has an interest in computer technology — in fact, he's doing an internship this summer at Stanford University looking at the business applications of wearable technology for medical students — and he realized there was an opportunity to be had. But he saw it much more as a community service than a business at first. He asked his uncle in Katy to post his services to the Next Door app, and the business took off. Within two months, he'd worked with 14 clients on upgrading their homes with technology.

"I knew I didn't want to do any ads," says Patel. "So, all of my business has been word of mouth."

By July of 2017, he says he posted between $10,000 and $14,000 in profits. He credits the success of the business to his approach to clients. He wants each experience to be not only personal, but personalized. When he meets with a client, he has a questionnaire that gauges what they want to get from their technology. Some might want to properly install a Nest thermostat. Others may want to network Amazon Echo or iHome products to do everything from turning on lights to playing music.

"Or, maybe they want to open the garage door from their cellphones as they are coming in the driveway after work," he says.

Patel says he has worked with clients to tell them what they need and the clients purchase the equipment and products themselves. But he also provides more concierge service, where he will take a client's list of items, purchase them and then install them.

He says he tends to work more in the summers and on school breaks than he does during the school year, since he's studying the challenging International Baccalaureate curriculum at school. He's also trained some of his friends on doing installations, as well as mentoring them about how to talk to clients, how to respond to questions and otherwise provide high level service — things he says he learned over the course of launching his business.

"The biggest thing I've learned is that is you want to do anything, you have to have passion and drive," he says. "And my biggest challenge has been managing my clients along with my school work."

In college, he plans to study the Internet of Things, likely via a computer engineering program. Since his win at Think Tank, he's invested back into his business and plans to expand as much as he can; he's thinking of offering his services citywide, branching out from his Sugar Land and Katy coverage areas.

But even as he's continuing his studies and building a business, he keeps his own priority for Tide Media top of mind: he wants it to be a service for the community to help others be more connected.

"A lot of this is still new technology," he says. "And I want to help people see how technology can help society."