In honor of Workforce Development Professionals Month in September, we want to recognize the hard work that workforce development professionals are doing to help companies and organizations keep talent pipelines full with qualified candidates. In the context of cyber training and education, perhaps now more than ever, it’s important to understand the value of hands-on cyber training solutions for companies actively seeking to fill cyber security job positions in their respective departments.

Evolving cyber workforce demands and requirements are undoubtedly placing more pressure on companies of all shapes and sizes to hire more cyber experts (and there are a lot of unfilled positions out there). Workforce development organizations can help their clients fill open cyber jobs with qualified candidates by leveraging hands-on cyber range training to give job seekers employable skills for cyber career entry and advancement.

Career and professional development workforce plans are rich with recommendations for companies to deploy but one area that deserves equal attention in a workforce development professional’s playbook for their clients is around cyber security professional training. Many companies struggle to fill positions in cyber-related work roles for a variety of reasons yet we also know by making cyber training a part of a company’s year-round workforce development program, hands-on skill building can be a habitual part of a company’s cyber readiness strategy – and not an ‘add on’ anymore.

If the pandemic and remote work has taught companies and institutions anything about virtual work and learning, it is that cyber security impacts everyone. For cyber/IT professionals doing security work a little differently now, having the skills and competencies to keep pace with malicious attackers is critical to keeping companies and employees safe.

According to the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, some of the top challenges that workforce development and learning development professionals face include:

  1. Dealing with change
  2. Developing leaders
  3. Engaging learners
  4. Delivering consistent training
  5. Skills application
  6. Conflict management
  7. Tracking and post assessment
  8. Improving learning effectiveness
  9. Demonstrating value to leadership
  10. Adapting training to Millennials

While cyber training solutions can’t reasonably address all these challenges, Circadence’s Project Ares cyber learning platform can alleviate a few out of these 10.

Engaging Learners

Project Ares training scenarios are gamified, which means elements like player scoring, leaderboards, chat feature, and ‘training videos’ set context for what the user is tasked to do and learn in the platform. These components create a sense of ‘healthy competition’ for users who can engage in the training exercises individually or as part of a team.

Delivering Consistent Training

Project Ares is a browser-based platform running on Microsoft Azure, so training can be scaled up or down and accessed at any time.

Skills Application

Users in Project Ares can easily build cyber skills at the rate and pace they desire. Not only does the platform provide 100+ hours of cyber material to read and absorb, but users have the chance to put knowledge to the test in skill-building, hands-on activities. Players can build skills in areas like network recon, phishing and exfiltration, ransomware, and confronting botnets, for example. They can also learn fundamental skills like how to use Splunk and Wireshark tools, learn ports and protocols, or regular expression practices.

Tracking and Post Assessment

The Project Ares Trainer View allows cyber team leaders to see how his/her team is using and progressing through the training activities.

Depending on the subscription tier, there are two trainer views:

  1. One for mission coaching where trainers can observe single or team mission play in real time or in session playback
  2. Second one for Team or Class performance analysis to assess skill gaps and build ROI.

Improving Learning Effectiveness

Learning cyber security becomes fun and enjoyable in Project Ares because it is gamified and has a visually stunning interface that invites interaction among users in the platform. Hands-on (or active) learning that is provided in the platform makes learning ‘sticky’ so learning retention rates will increase compared to more passive learning techniques like video watching and lectures.

Adapting Training to Millennials

The next generation of cyber professionals grew up with video games, so it makes sense that any training or skills development application tool leverage gamification to make learning attractive and engaging to aspiring professionals.

The value of hands-on cyber experience in workforce development

Cyber security is becoming a part of every professional’s and student’s lives, especially now with pandemic requirements shifting to more remote, virtual work. This means cyber risks are escalated for enterprises and they need more cyber personnel. And employers need to fill lots of open positions, so students need to graduate with the cyber skills needed to be ready to work. Workforce development plans that have a professional competency and training section should include details on cyber competency assessment and evaluation strategies.

Nearly 80% of organizations will need more technical security staff in the next 12 months, according to new data from ISACA. Source

The best way to evaluate current and future cyber workforce needs is to explore solutions that provide professional training and assessment. Doing so will allow cyber leaders or SOC directors to ‘see’ where the gaps are in their team and where to improve within the larger readiness strategy. It becomes much easier for workforce development professionals to recommend next steps that are attainable and practical for their clients, too.

If a client is at all prioritizing cyber training and professional development within their organization, you’ll want to identify strategies, tools and platforms that can address the following:

  • Cyber workforce risk (exposure and tolerance)
  • Cyber workforce skills gaps and proficiency levels
  • Training needs
  • Hiring targets (if the client needs to fill vacancies or initiate recruiting)

By layering the Project Ares hands-on platform into cyber professional development and career progression strategies, workforce organizations serving enterprises and academic communities can better support their client’s workforce development goals.

Project Ares is an award-winning, gamified cyber security learning platform that helps students and professionals alike build and keep skills sharp against evolving cyber threats. Practice and progress in the hands-on platform with foundational, intermediate and advanced cyber learning content. Its patented cyber range-as-a-service technology delivers authentic virtual machine-based exercises so cyber preparation is as true-to-life as it gets.

Unlike other cyber training solutions, real virtual machines and real tools are used in gamified scenarios to make training as realistic (and engaging) as possible for users. Workforce development professionals who are seeking increased needs from clients to hire/retain cyber talent, will find that Project Ares can support their client’s talent assessment and skill-building needs effectively.

The platform is structured into three main learning tiers:

  1. Build fundamental knowledge of cyber security concepts and theory with learning games
  2. Use tools, deploy tactics, and hone procedures in foundational exercises called Battle Rooms
  3. Culminate knowledge and skills in specialized scenarios called Missions

The platform is offered as a subscription-based model for organizations and workforce development professionals who are interested in recommending the platform to their clients can get a taste for what the platform feels like in a trial experience.

Providing clients with ample cyber skills development opportunities will be essential as hackers become more advanced in their criminal activity and targeting capabilities. Organization’s seeking to not only fill cyber positions but engage and retain talent need more than quick fixes to stay protected and hardened. A new ISACA “State of Cybersecurity 2020” report suggests that 73% of security teams seek hands-on experience as a key job qualification. There’s never been a better time to help companies harden their cyber posture – and it so often starts and ends with the people behind the frontline networks defending data and maintaining cyber integrity.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash