Shortfall Sparks Cyber New Professionals Initiative

January 2021
Topics: Cybersecurity, Human Resources, Professional Development, Learning Environments, Computer Security
By nearly all measures of job data there's a serious shortage of cybersecurity professionals in the U.S. There's also intense competition to hire new cybersecurity graduates. MITRE developed a strategy to attract and foster in-house cyber talent.
Woman working at computer.

Three years ago, MITRE launched a two-year Cyber New Professionals (CNP) program designed to attract, hire, and train early-career cybersecurity professionals. Since then, we’ve hired over 130 staff, had 60+ CNP graduates, and have a developed a legion of supporters throughout the company.

"The CNP program is a great example of MITRE's agility," says Kathryn Knerler, department manager running the program since inception. "In two months, we took the CNP program from planning to implementation. To start, it was a small department, and demand grew to the point where CNP expanded to two departments this past summer. Now MITRE Labs' recently graduating cybersecurity applicants spend their first two years in the CNP, and the New Professionals Program is expanding to other critical job skills in MITRE Labs."

The CNP and its graduates have gotten rave reviews, and the internal competition for the graduates is keen. Based on a rotational model, CNP participants are not tied permanently to any one department or division. Their individual interests and backgrounds help them carve out a career path specific to them.

Suneel Sundar, who now co-manages the CNP, made the initial pitch to MITRE leadership. "The best job experience I had as a young professional was the rotational program I completed as a mathematician for the U.S. government," he says.

"I wanted MITRE's early-career staff to have that exceptional opportunity to broaden their own definition of cyber work, to establish a community of peers early in their career, and to create a network of professional mentors."

Four Career Components, Rotational Experiences

Designed to be flexible and engaging, the CNP has four distinct components.

  • Rotations: Each member works on at least four different projects during the program. The projects can be anywhere in the company with staffing needs.
  • Development: Funding is available for participants to attend conferences, complete certifications, and take classes for acquiring and refining new cybersecurity skills.
  • Peer Cohorts: Members form peer cohorts they can use throughout their MITRE career to find projects they’re interested in. They also form networks and connections.
  • Mentoring: CNP hires pair up with MITRE subject matter experts in specialty fields they're interested in.

Sundar adds, "Our CNP participants cross-train across capability areas, work with industry and government, and have impact for multiple sponsors."

Program participants are located at MITRE's main campuses in McLean, Virginia, and in Bedford, Massachusetts, as well as our sites across the country.

It's essential that the program include a broad representation of education, backgrounds, skills, and interests.    

Knerler is emphatic on that point. "We want to change the face of cybersecurity. We need the CNP to include new talent that will bring more diversity of thought to this field."

Filling a Need for Cyber Skills  

Feedback from staff and participants has been overwhelmingly positive.

Morgan Keiser, a MITRE intern who joined the CNP after she finished her degree, was one of the first CNP graduates. "I really enjoyed being around other new grads and navigating the beginning of my career with them. There’s a lot of growth and support being together in the same department."

But it's definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach. "I think MITRE’s CNP is different from other organizations’ new hire and cybersecurity training programs in the autonomy of the type of training you can choose to do, based on your specific career interests."

Current CNP member Bronwyn Hodges agrees. "The component I like the most is the ability to work with multiple groups within MITRE. That's helped me pinpoint areas of cybersecurity I'm most interested in. Plus, I've had exposure to many types of security techniques, which helps me have a more comprehensive approach for securing an environment."

MITRE managers working with the CNP are also enthusiastic supporters of the program. "The CNP provides us with a more diverse group of talent than we could get if we just hired our own interns," says Brian Abe, who manages the National Cybersecurity FFRDC. "The rotational program makes them well-rounded cyber professionals with strong MITRE connections."

Given the ever-growing need for more cybersecurity experts, Abe notes, "CNP is a win for the employee, a win for MITRE, a win for our sponsors, and a win for our nation." 

—by Kay M. Upham

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