By Scott Campbell
Research indicates that there are more cybersecurity jobs available than people to fill them—and the number of cyber job openings is increasing, according to CompTIA’s State of Cybersecurity 2024 research report. The skills gap in qualified cyber resources makes it difficult to develop the security tools and processes necessary to stay on top of the latest threats. It also means we have to do more—starting with getting young students more interested in cybersecurity as a possible career, according to Henry Mann, senior director of product development at CompTIA Spark.
“Middle school cybersecurity education is an important tool to help increase the number and types of students who understand that cyber careers are rewarding and readily available,” Mann said. “If we don’t get students interested in a tech pathway in middle school, they’re not going to opt into tech in high school, which means they won’t be prepared for the tech workforce after they graduate.”
To date, not enough middle school students are developing an interest in cyber careers because cybersecurity curriculums are often dry, overly technical or focused on personal cyber hygiene.
“You lose a lot of students that might otherwise develop an interest and do exciting work in these fields,” he said.
The question is how to get more students, especially more diverse and female students, excited about exploring a cyber pathway to get into the workforce and start filling open jobs.
“Typically middle school cybersecurity education tends to focus on personal cyber best practices. That’s important, but it isn’t great for developing an interest in cybersecurity careers. We have to get students excited about the technology and the underlying work that real cybersecurity professionals do every day," Mann said.
Explaining Cybersecurity at a Student’s Level
"One way to pique youth interest in cybersecurity—or any tech field—is to use video and interactive simulations and games to help introduce students to topics that might otherwise be complex or dry," Mann said.
For example, CompTIA’s middle school curriculum includes a cybersecurity unit that leverages video and simple games to explain concepts including network communication, the role of servers for the internet, how servers can be vulnerable to attack and how cyber professionals defend against attacks.
“Every lesson in our unit is built around a similar experience: students first watch an engaging bite-sized video that explains a topic, which is followed by a fun interactive and collaborative game that allows students to engage in the content in innovative and effective ways,” Mann said. “These games start simple and then get increasingly complex and rigorous lesson by lesson. By the end of the unit, students are playing as a cybersecurity engineer trying to defend his company’s web infrastructure against DDoS attacks.”
"The goal is to make the information understandable for anyone who is not particularly cybersecurity-experienced—including teachers," said Mann. CompTIA Spark leveraged cybersecurity subject-matter experts to distill important concepts into videos and games to help students build an authentic understanding of the information.
“I’m not super technical, and it’s easy for any of us to feel intimidated about cybersecurity work. It feels like a black box—for adults too, not just students. These are important concepts to learn, but how many teachers have the expertise and comfort level to teach them to students? Our goal is to make it easy for teachers everywhere to bring high quality and engaging cybersecurity education into their classrooms,” Mann said.
Discover how the CompTIA Spark cybersecurity learning unit helps students develop these skills and empower them to be more digitally literate.