Project QUEST Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program First in Texas

By Iris Gonzalez
Trained cybersecurity professionals are in great demand in every industry and government sector. Photo credit: Northup Grumman.

Project QUEST, a San Antonio-based nonprofit organization that matches San Antonio-area residents to career-track training programs, launched the first cybersecurity apprenticeship program in Texas. A nationally registered apprenticeship with the U.S. Department of Labor, Project QUEST manages the Community Initiative Center of Excellence for Secure Software San Antonio (CICESS-SA), an industry-led partnership with community colleges that combines education and apprenticeship to train applicants in secure software development.

CICESS apprentices work with local employer partners for the hands-on experience using their newly acquired skills in secure coding to develop computer software in a way that guards against the accidental introduction of security vulnerabilities. The work-study program takes anywhere from two to three years to complete 2,000 on-the-job training and education hours for full-time students. The employer pays apprentices hourly wages commensurate with increasing skills over the course of the apprenticeship.

The program launched in November with its first cohort of eight apprentices with more students in process for the 2019 cohorts. The apprenticeship offers an economically feasible pathway for participants to become secure coders without taking on considerable student loan debt. Apprentices are also filling critical workforce needs for employers over the course of the two-year apprenticeship program while attending school full-time. Credits earned can be used toward an associate’s degree program that meets software assurance curriculum requirements defined by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

“We look for aptitude, ability to get a security clearance, and interest in an IT career,” Project QUEST coordinator of external relations Susan Oelsen said. “Our apprenticeship program in secure coding provides solid secure coding skills that will prepare job seekers a promising future in cybersecurity.”

Employer partners Ishpi Information Technologies, Decypher Technologies Ltd, Def-Logix, Inc., Innove, LLC, and IPSecure Inc. lead the CICESS apprenticeship initiative in San Antonio, while Project QUEST provides overall program management.

Project QUEST, which has helped more than 7,000 job seekers since 1992 with career counseling and financial assistance for education, announced Tuesday they have received a $1 million grant as part of the Communities Thrive Challenge, a $10 million effort by The Rockefeller Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to expand economic opportunity for low-income and financially insecure people and communities across the country. The nonprofit was one of 10 programs picked from nine states and Puerto Rico. Project QUEST president and CEO David Zammiello said the grant funding will help the nonprofit expand and diversify its program offerings.

“We’re a workforce intermediary, a collaborator—we don’t do the training,” Zammiello said. “We’re different in that we connect employers, training entities, job seekers, and funders in collaborative partnerships that help create career pathways for those interested in an IT career.”

The roots of Project QUEST’s cybersecurity apprenticeship program started in 2016 by partnering with Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy in a 12-week cybersecurity boot camp. That program to date has had 78 graduates.

IPSecure director of human resources Irma Symons has worked with some of those first Project QUEST cybersecurity interns and spoke highly of the program at a NICE K12 Cybersecurity Education Conference Tuesday.

“We hired four of our first five interns,” Symons said. “Project QUEST’s apprenticeship program will give students training and industry experience that’s critical so they can pass industry certification exams and become fully certified cybersecurity professionals.”

Because of Project QUEST’s work on the cybersecurity boot camp internships, Ishpi Information Technologies vice president of joint forces programs Buddy Smith approached Project QUEST in 2017 about developing a secure coding apprenticeship program, Zammiello said.

The Aspen Institute’s  Cyber and Technology Strategy Group has recommended employers need to create talent strategies to fill the growing demand for cybersecurity talent. One of their leading recommendations is to launch apprenticeship programs to train candidate pipelines at scale.

“It’s a collaborative effort involving the U.S. Department of Labor, the Alamo Colleges, specifically San Antonio College, Ishpi and the employer partners, and Carnegie Mellon University,” Zammiello said. “We aim to make career pathways accessible for those who are underserved in our community to get them into those key demand careers like IT and cyber.”

The $1 million grant gives Project Quest the opportunity to think how to scale the industry-education apprenticeship approach to reach more job seekers. “There is still a large segment of our population who can benefit from these services,” Zammiello said. “With the community award grant, we will take what we learned and apply this to other industries for other sectors like healthcare.”

Zammiello said they are fleshing out a plan for a “First Steps” program to help get those interested in healthcare careers get started as a certified nurse assistant with the goal of eventually getting trained as a registered nurse or licensed vocational nurse.

“We can be a catalyst for this collaboration—the community is hungry for this,” Zammiello said.

Featured image is of cybersecurity workers. Trained cybersecurity professionals are in great demand in every industry and government sector. Photo credit: Northup Grumman.

1 Comment

  • Iris, thanks for the great article about Project QUEST and our efforts to develop the Cyber workforce in San Antonio. We are ready, willing and able to discuss other types of Cyber apprenticeships with local employers. We are applying for designation as an Eligible Training Provider and can streamline the process of forming other Apprenticeships in San Antonio

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