The two leaders of the federal CIO Council’s workforce committee are staying positive about the Office of Management and Budget’s cyber reskilling academy, despite its graduates having struggled to get hired into cybersecurity jobs at federal agencies.

“It was a beautiful experiment,” said Dorothy Aronson, CIO of the National Science Foundation and co-lead of the CIO Council’s workforce committee alongside Department of Education CIO Jason Gray. “At the end, could they get hired? No. Okay, so what did we learn from that? ... There’s a pool of people who are talented and could do it. Yes, you can train them quickly.”

The problem the employees ran into, according to Gray and Aronson (along with other OMB officials), is the mandatory time requirements before moving up the ladder into higher-level positions. Gray said that two employees are going through background investigations for hiring into a related job, in addition to one more currently doing a detail.

“We do have some employees that do have a challenge with the mandatory minimum requirement of 52 weeks,” Gray said. “That is something we’re working with OPM and OMB on. But, again, we’re still navigating that right now.”

The reskilling academy recently graduated its second cohort. Both Aronson and Gray told the Federal Times that they consider the academy to be a success, based off the amount of engagement the program has had. When they first started the pilot program, they didn’t know if anyone would be interested in joining the program. Turns out, they’ve had thousands of applicants.

“So it’s not a failing experiment; it’s an experiment that led us to the next experiment that we have to do,” Aronson said.

The workforce gap

The cybersecurity workforce gap is a consistent discussion point at conferences. Aronson said she wants initiatives in place for on the job learning.

“I’d like to see more apprenticeship in government and respect for on-the-job learning,” said Aronson, adding she wants to find a way to "hire a person who is productive 80 percent of the time and learning for the other 20 percent.”

Aronson and Robyn Rees, senior adviser for human capital transformation at the Department of the Interior, said the idea that the older workforce doesn’t want to change skills needs to be dispelled. Rees said there’s a desire among Interior employees who have been there upwards of 20 years to learn new skills.

“[They said] ‘I’ve been here for 20 years, there has to be something else I can do with the skills that I have,’” Rees said. “It is not just the younger generation that wants to keep changing.”

Aronson said she wants to provide opportunity for federal employees that want to advance their skills. The motivating motivation for advancement for many federal employees their desire to serve, she said.

“People come to work for the federal government for a lot of reasons,” said Aronson. "But one of the main reasons is serving the mission of the government.”

Andrew Eversden covered all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. Beforehand, he reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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