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Program speeding the transition to tech

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A new program at ECPI University aims to unite two crucial areas: the ever-growing need for more cybersecurity professionals and those whom the pandemic has put out of work or who are just looking for a new challenge.

The school’s accelerated cyber and information security technology program allows people with a four-year to degree to put those credits to work earning a bachelor’s in cyber and network security in as little as 12 months.

“There’s an enormous need for cybersecurity professionals in all companies with the responsibility of maintaining security of data,” Jim Rund, ECPI Columbia campus president, said. “It’s created an enormous need for CIS, or computer information specialists, that are savvy in the cyber and network security area, especially in South Carolina.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 31% growth rate in information security analyst jobs nationwide from 2019-2029, which translates to an additional 40,900 workers. estimates that South Carolina will see a 7.5% growth rate in that field by 2021 and a 31.6% growth rate, or a need for an additional 420 workers, by 2028.

Those numbers have the attention of the S.C. Council on Competitiveness, a nonprofit organization focused on research and resources that drive the state’s long-term economic growth.

“What we know right now is that, in South Carolina, we do not have enough workforce to fill the current open positions within tech and cyber,” Kim Christ, the organization’s director of S.C. Tech and S.C. Cyber. “So having a program like this that allows someone to pivot their career quickly … can really help elevate the workforce, the employer needs, with filling these jobs that have been remaining open.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, information security analysts average $99,730 a year nationally and $82,180 in South Carolina. Programs like EPCI’s, Christ said, help keep that potentially high-earning talent at home.

“South Carolina has some really great advantages,” she said. “We have a burgeoning tech scene. We have the opportunity for people to have a very high quality of life with a lower cost of living. With cyber and tech jobs, a lot of it can be done remotely, and you can live where you want to live and work where you need to work. We want to keep our talent here in South Carolina, and I think we’re doing that two different ways.

“One is by building the structure and the support for tech companies to open here, to build their business base here in South Carolina, and two, by providing alternate pathways of education and opportunities to enter the workforce.”

The ECPI classes are remote, though on-campus computer labs are available, Rund said. The program, which will field its first class in October, alternates classes and labs five nights a week, he said, allowing those currently employed to continue working their day jobs.

“There’s been a lot of interest from the community,” Rund said. “The need is there. The interest is there. We certainly need to get the word out for those that have a bachelor’s degree that are underemployed or just want to move into a different sector.

“There’s such a demand for it. It really could make a big boost in someone’s career.”

Rund emphasized that four-year degrees in any discipline can fit into the program.

“If there’s any gaps at all, they’ll work with you on that,” he said. “That’s kind of what they’re looking for, somebody who maybe has a degree in an area (where) the workforce is already saturated or maybe the workforce needs have changed and there aren’t a lot of jobs in that area. They can easily transfer over. It’s really more of a career development and a professional development to another career path.”

 Christ echoed that thought.

“One of the things that we’ve seen in tech and programming and these cyber fields is that people with artistic inclinations, people who are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, problem-solvers, puzzle-putters-together, these are the types of people who really excel in tech and especially a field like cyber, where you are essentially trying to solve a puzzle every day,” she said.

“There is a misconception that in order to be a successful tech employee, you need to be very mathematically minded. And while that doesn’t hurt, it isn’t necessarily true.”

As the widespread fallout from this summer’s ransomware attack on GPS and aviation tech company Garmin, which paid hackers millions of dollars to recover its data, demonstrates, the field of cybersecurity is a critical one that will only increase in importance as Americans live more of their lives online. The University of South Carolina also reported a ransomware attack on an outside vendor last month that may have exposed information including birthdates and demographic information.

“All of our data, all of our functions and workflow, are usually technologically enabled,” Christ said. “And so if you have these bad actors on the scene, these hackers who are constantly trying to breach our network systems to steal data to try and influence politics, to basically try and shape our world, (if) we don’t have the people on the scene who can combat this, then we are at risk of losing data, of having supply chains taken down, of having all of the information breached. In the worst-case scenario, we’re looking at the potential of other entities being able to infiltrate our daily necessities like power and water.

“So cybersecurity is essential. It’s essential to getting goods where they need to go, it’s essential to getting our banking information, our money routed from one place to another. It’s essential for businesses to communicate, and cyber really is interwoven through all of those.”

This article first appeared in the Sept. 14 print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report. 

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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