Jobs and Cybersecurity: A New Initiative

Central Illinois Center of Excellence for Secure Software

A new initiative responds to global security threats… and offers an opportunity for the Peoria-area workforce.

In 2013, the FBI reported more than 3,000 cybersecurity breaches. The Heartbleed defect hit millions of websites globally, resulting in 4.5 million patient records being stolen. Information technology spending is expected to reach nearly $77 billion in 2015—just for security! And, according to a PwC survey released in September 2014, “The cybersecurity software solutions and services market is likely to remain a growth sector because executives and boards recognize that cyber threats will never be completely eliminated, and regulatory and compliance requirements will likely become more stringent.” In his 2011 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, “The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber-attack that cripples our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems.”

A new industry, academic and government collaborative effort in the Greater Peoria area recognizes these threats and is developing a unique approach connecting classroom software programming education with hands-on experience that gives students an opportunity to “earn while they learn” as they prepare for high-demand jobs in secure software programming. At the same time, this approach develops a well-trained workforce ready to meet these increasing global threats.

A Center of Excellence for Secure Software
The cornerstone of this initiative is the Central Illinois Center of Excellence for Secure Software (CICESS). This industry-led consortium will provide apprenticeships to develop hands-on skills for secure software development in partnership with community colleges. Participating businesses and organizations will offer qualified students apprenticeships, while the community college provides classroom instruction. This combination will allow CICESS to offer an economically feasible pathway to acquiring in-demand skills, a middle-class job for the apprentice, and a skilled workforce for area employers.

Senior executives at central Illinois employers CEFCU, Illinois Mutual, Ishpi Information Technologies Inc. and L&T Technology Services are participating in a steering committee to plan and implement CICESS. In addition, representatives from Illinois Central College, the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, P.E.R.F.E.C.T Peoria and the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest (GACC Midwest) serve on the CICESS steering committee for an unprecedented industry, academic and government collaborative effort.

CICESS is designed to address the following national issues locally:

  • Exponential increase in the number of cyber-attacks by hackers exploiting defective/insecure software;
  • Unmet need for a workforce capable of developing software which is secure from cyber-attacks;
  • Unaffordable cost of higher education and crushing student loan debt;
  • Unemployment and underemployment of college graduates; and
  • Vanishing middle-class jobs.

Benefits for Employers and Job Seekers
The CICESS initiative will provide significant benefits to area employers and job seekers. Benefits to companies include:

  • A flexible program to meet a variety of company requirements;
  • Augmentation of existing workforce development plans;
  • Reduced recruiting costs;
  • Greater employee loyalty with high rates of retention;
  • Increased quality of new employee training; and
  • Positive corporate image.

Benefits to job seekers include:

  • An associate’s degree with little or no debt;
  • U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Certification (in process);
  • Recognized industry certifications for secure software development;
  • Defined career pathway with high likelihood of employment in the training firm; and
  • Option to transfer credits to bachelor’s degree programs.

The community benefits from a workforce with high-demand skills to help support existing technology infrastructure and draw additional middle-class, high-wage technology jobs to the area. With a laser focus on the high-growth secure software industry, the steering committee estimates the creation of 500 direct and 2,500 indirect jobs, generating more than $50 million additional gross revenue in the community by 2017. The first apprentice cohort is scheduled to begin this fall at Illinois Central College.

An Emerging Opportunity
Among the innovative features of CICESS are:

  • A proven, successful apprenticeship approach to augment existing skills formation models and meet requirements defined by industry;
  • Industry partnership with consortium of nine community colleges led by Illinois Central College for successful implementation of the dual vocational (work/study) model;
  • First-in-the-nation associate’s degree in secure software development offered by ICC that meets software assurance curriculum requirements defined by Carnegie Mellon University, with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security;
  • Standard curriculum formally recognized by CMU CERT (in process);
  • Standard apprenticeship curriculum developed by industry subject matter experts;
  • U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship programs (in process);
  • Alternating multi-week blocks of training at the community college and on-site at participating companies; and
  • Practicum examination and standard industry certifications to validate competency.

CICESS is supported by the mayors of Peoria, East Peoria and Washington; presidents of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and Greater Peoria Economic Development Council; senior executives of nine area community colleges; deans and professors of four area universities; and other community leaders involved in workforce and economic development.

CICESS is working cooperatively with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, the Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University, the Illinois Manufacturing Association and the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest. The initiative has been developed with input from the Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, National Institutes of Standards, Small Business Administration and the Department of Labor.

The Pathways to Prosperity network report, “Peoria, Illinois Asset Mapping Project,” identified CICESS as an emerging opportunity for the Peoria region. The CICESS approach is scalable to other communities in Illinois and the rest of the nation. iBi