HERMITAGE — As the former North American CEO of a Japanese company, Jeff Meier knows firsthand the importance of hiring qualified cybersecurity professionals.

Now, as the executive director of the eCenter in LindenPointe, Meier is overseeing a pilot program that will train students for careers in a cybersecurity field — whether they’re in high school, college, or working adults looking for something new.

“The beauty of this program and why it’s so attractive is we really don’t have a lot of leading-edge programs for the type of skills and jobs needed in the 21st century,” Meier said.

The eCenter’s cybersecurity program is expected to kick off sometime in February with about 15 high school students and 15 college students. The program will partner with Cisco global networks for their training, technology use and networking, and with CompTIA for their cybersecurity analyst course, IT network operation work, and Security+ course.

But unlike a traditional program in a classroom setting, the cybersecurity program will be virtual, with no required days or times when students must be present. Meier said that helps make it attractive for students to work on outside of class or for adults when they’re not working.

The average student will need to complete about 40 hours of class work and about 13 to 15 hours in a lab environment. An instructor is expected to be on-site at the eCenter once or twice a week if a student wants to meet face-to-face for something. Virtual support also will be available.

That non-traditional class structure, where students can participate on their own schedules, lends itself to the remote nature of cybersecurity workers.

Meier said 75 percent of cybersecurity professionals work from home, which will allow graduates from the eCenter’s program to get hired at life-sustaining wages and continue living in the area.

There are 600,000 jobs in the cybersecurity industry opening up, with over 20,000 jobs in Pennsylvania and 14,000 in Ohio. Meier said there are not enough workers to fulfill this need.

“We know we’re not necessarily going to encourage large, existing cybersecurity companies to this area, but we can train a workforce they can utilize,” he said. “In the world of IT, especially cybersecurity IT, people have been working from home long before the pandemic.”

A state grant will help make the pilot program a reality, with a PASmart Industry Partnership Grant of $250,000 provided to the Pennsylvania Cybersecurity Center last December. The eCenter at LindenPointe will share in the grant, according to a press release from state Rep. Mark Longietti’s office.

Private donations are also contributing to the program, Meier said.

“As the world grows increasingly digital, the demand for high-paying cybersecurity jobs has quickly increased, and our region needs to keep pace with that demand by providing training for those careers,” Longietti said. “This funding will allow the eCenter@LindenPointe to lay the groundwork for its pilot program geared toward area high school and college students by funding efforts at recruitment, industry exposure, curriculum and placement.”

Depending on the program’s success, Meier said he hopes the cybersecurity program will eventually help develop a brand for LindenPointe and lead to potentially more tech businesses coming to the LindenPointe innovative Business Campus in Hermitage.

Employers often hire cybersecurity professionals and continue training them in more specific fields, so students of the eCenter’s program who graduate with a cybersecurity certification will likely continue their education as their career continues, Meier said.

eCenter officials are working with Thiel College, Westminster College and Penn State’s Shenango Campus to get college accreditation through the cybersecurity program, Meier said.

“It’s been well-received by the colleges, because this can be an expansion for some schools that may not have the funding to provide cybersecurity training,” he said.

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Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.

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