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Free training and certification available through SANS Cyber Workforce Academy 

Max Shuftan, SANS director of Mission and Partnerships. (Submitted photo)

If you’ve ever considered getting into the cybersecurity field or have some experience and need continuing education, the SANS Institute has a new academy for Maryland residents.

The cybersecurity training and certifications company announced in early August the formation of the SANS Cyber Workforce Academy. Through a collaboration with the Maryland Department of Labor’s EARN MD grant, the academy is free to Maryland residents who are accepted.

The program was built on a series of different academies that SANS has hosted since 2015.

“Each of these (academies) was built with the idea that if you can find people who are passionate about cybersecurity and have the aptitude to learn it, we can help close the talent gap that the industry faces,” said Max Shuftan, SANS director of Mission and Partnerships. Their first collaboration with the state occurred in 2018 and this academy is the third iteration of the program.

“From our perspective, the academy is needed because traditional academia often requires individuals to invest four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars of money or (get a) loan to try to get degrees that often, not always, but often don’t teach practical hands-on skills that help people be job ready in the field,” he said. “The academy is a model that can be that bridge for someone looking to jump into the field but with skills that are needed by employers and that speak to the job you will be performing on day one. Having that kind of immersive approach will enable participants to gain skills quickly, prove themselves with certifications and get to work.”

Shuftan notes Maryland is a great location for the academy given its proximity to the nation’s capital and the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. corridor that is home to a bevy of government contractors, organizations and agencies as well as private sector employers.

“Maryland’s prominence in terms of both the national security space and the commercial sector requires it to have significant cyber security talent pool,” he said.

As of mid-August, there were nearly 700,000 cybersecurity jobs open across the United States. In mid-September, Tasha Cornish, executive director of the Cybersecurity Association of Maryland Inc. (CAMI) noted there were more than 23,000 open jobs in cybersecurity just in the state.

“That number just keeps growing,” she said. “It is really a great career to have especially if you want to stay, raise a family, have a good meaningful career and stay in Maryland.”

The academy, she said, is a great entry point to the field. “It really gives a nice broad but rich introduction to cybersecurity in a very practical way by giving trainees the skills that are in demand from the industry. I hope that it gets people more excited. I think there is a lot of opportunities to continue to grow and learn and I hope it gives some people the bug to pursue a career in this and get more involved in the industry.”

The online academy focuses on two areas — reskilling and upskilling. The reskilling academy is focused on educating individuals that are not currently working in cybersecurity. This track involves three training courses over a six-month period and the ability to earn three certifications. The upskilling academy provides educational opportunities for individuals with IT experience and/or limited cybersecurity skills in order to get certified to move into higher-level cyber positions. This track lasts four months and includes two industry courses with the opportunity to earn two certifications.

Only Maryland residents may apply for this academy. Applicants will take an aptitude assessment to try to gauge their potential in cybersecurity as well submitting a resume and participating in an interview. Typically there is about an 8 to 1 applicant-to-selected student ratio. A new cohort of students starts every 8 to 12 weeks. A cohort usually has 10 to 12 students. We will have eight to nine cohorts with a total of 88 students over the course of about two years.

Shuftan hopes participants take away hands-on technical skills, cyber defense and incident handling abilities. “This type of work is critical to our national and economic security and they will be ready to make a contribution,” he said.