CLEVELAND — What do a computer science graduate, a soldier, a former fire-EMS worker, and a former hospitality manager have in common?
Aside from a servant's heart, they've pivoted and are now serving a huge and growing need in cybersecurity.
"I really enjoy helping people," said Eric Edereff, cybersecurity analyst.
"IT jobs are in-demand, they're more than living-wage jobs and this is talent that not just our organization needs, but frankly everyone needs," said Andy Jones, CEO of Fortress SRM, a cybersecurity firm headquartered in Cleveland.
Nationwide, the demand for cybersecurity workers far outpaces supply.
Right now, there are more than 460,000 cybersecurity job openings in the United States and more than 10,000 in Ohio, according to Cyber Seek.
The website also shows Ohio is lagging behind the national average cybersecurity workforce supply/demand ratio.
"A lot of people think they need to have all these qualifications and a master's degree to be in cybersecurity and I think it's a misinterpretation," said Will Hudec, security program manager.
Jones is making the on-ramp to these good-paying, in-demand jobs more accessible and affordable to try and help the talent pipeline.
"All I wanted to do was get on the bottom rung of a super tall ladder and Fortress is letting me climb it," said Gabe Whitehead, cybersecurity incident response analyst.
These are jobs that are critical for companies to fill, but also for our nation.
In the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, emerging technology and cyber were among the top concerns to the national security of our country.
So far this year, U.S. companies have lost $16 billion and counting to ransomware attacks, and that's just what's been reported, according to a website Jones and Fortress helped create called ransomwareclock.org.
"In some instances, especially for mid- to small businesses, a ransomware attack can spell disaster," said Jones. "By disaster, I mean many are insolvent within six months. If we're trying to grow our region and our economy, the last thing we need are businesses collapsing because of cyber-attacks."
Jones says right now he has about 85 employees but would like to have 150.
"We can’t wait… the industry can’t wait… on the next four-year group of candidates to graduate and come into the workforce,” said Jones. “So, we've taken a more direct approach in creating talent."
Jones used his military training as inspiration to create a quick and efficient training model to battle the skills gap.
Fortress has partnered with Lorain County Community College to develop an Earn and Learn program; students work for the company, learn in-demand skills while earning a paycheck and credit towards their associate's degree.
Jones also stresses skills and not degrees for entry-level jobs.
He said the Security+ certification, available locally and online, is a great place to start if you're interested and have a passion for this field. Certifications go up from there.
"If you take someone today who’s earning $10, $12 or $15/hour and they earn these certifications, in a few years they can be making well into the high $80's and beyond in those roles, which in Northeast Ohio is a very good living," he said.
Fortress said it offers tuition reimbursement up to $2,000 annually to take classes at an accredited institution and pays for certifications if an associate needs to get them as a part of their job.
"I was in the Army for about three years," said Justin Dolgos. "I went to Afghanistan and I got injured while I was there. So, my tour was cut short.”
The 32-year-old has found a new way to protect and serve. Dolgos is now with Fortress on the frontlines of one of our nation’s most prolific threats.
He says he loves the challenge of cybersecurity.
“There's always different threat actors who come up with new techniques to infiltrate a network," he said. “You always have to learn more, You have to have a thirst for knowledge and have to be able to adapt rapidly to a changing environment."
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