Bipartisan Cybersecurity Forum Focuses on Bringing Non-Degree Track Jobs to Atlantic City and Beyond

The “Bipartisan Congressional National Emergency RX5 Cybersecurity Initiative Forum" brought business leaders and legislators together to talk about cybersecurity. America needs to fill more than 5 million more jobs in this growing industry.

Bipartisan Cybersecurity Forum Focuses on Bringing Non-Degree Track Jobs to Atlantic City and Beyond
U.S. HART CARES Chairman James Whitehead (Left) talks to Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Democrat Steven Horsford, of Nevada. Source: Don Baker Photography

WASHINGTON — Cybersecurity specialists are the new plumbers, welders, and electricians of the 21st century.

They don’t need a four-year degree. But they can command a living wage and find gainful employment after months, not years, of training because America needs to fill 5 million more jobs in this emerging industry.

That’s the message legislators and business leaders alike brought to the nation’s capital on Friday, March 22, 2024, for the “Bipartisan Congressional National Emergency RX5 Cybersecurity Initiative Forum.”

No formal action was taken during this information session at the Rayburn Office Building, (a congressional facility for the U.S. House of Representatives) on Capitol Hill. Still, leaders from both parties acknowledged the value of placing greater emphasis on cybersecurity. This was so important to Congressional members that they stopped into the ballroom between votes on the $1.2 trillion funding package to avert a pending government shutdown (which did pass). (Click this link to see the GALLERY: Bipartisan Cybersecurity Forum Focuses on Bringing Non-Degree Track Jobs to Atlantic City and Beyond.)

“This was an extraordinary example of Democrats and Republicans, Black and white, working together to address the urgent need for America’s cybersecurity workforce,” said James Whitehead, chairman of the U.S. Humanitarian Aid Response Team Cares (U.S. HART CARES) nonprofit organization that organized the forum. “This comprehensive program represents a nationwide effort to foster a diverse and inclusive cybersecurity workforce from kindergarten through career and Atlantic City is going to be the hub of all of this.”

In what those close to the project called an unprecedented collaboration, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Democrat U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, of Nevada, Democrat U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, of South Carolina, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) — which is the nation’s only national membership association of all of the nation’s Historically Black colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIS) — and Rx5 CyberUnity introduced the WOZ ED CyberUnity (WECU) education program to concerned members of both parties.

“The cybersecurity industry is a growing and emerging industry that has tremendous opportunities and as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus one of our areas of focus is building Black economic prosperity and wealth,” said Horsford. “We’re doing that through a number of areas including workforce and entrepreneurship, making sure that we are not just the creators but the owners of wealth in every sector and so we’re pleased to join with the organizers of the … forum to bring these opportunities to communities.”

Clyburn emphasized cybersecurity experts’ ability to make money without a liberal arts degree.

“In order to major in History, I had to have four years. But if you want to be an electrician, you don’t need the four years and if you want to be an expert in cybersecurity you don’t really need the four years,” said Clyburn.

Clyburn received the U.S. HART CARES United States Eagle of Freedom Award presented by the Department of Defense Principal Deputy Chief Information Officer, Leslie A. Beavers.

U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, of South Carolina, poses with the Eagle of Freedom Award. Source: Don Baker Photography

Whitehead said the Eagle of Freedom Award was inspired by a similar award first given to Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the ruler of Oman, who helped free three American hikers jailed in Iran on espionage charges. In 2009, Sarah Shroud, Joshua Fattal, and Shawn Bauer had been arrested when they strayed across the border into Iran while hiking in the Turkish mountains along the Iraqi border. Qaaboos not only paid $500,000 bail for each of them, but he also helped negotiate their release after about a year because of his positive relationship both with Iran and the United States.

“If you just want to be a plumber, an electrician, you just want to be like your daddy or your granddaddy was … we’ve got to prepare them for the future,” Clyburn continued. “If it requires four years, fine, but if it doesn’t require four years let’s get serious about meeting them where they are and getting them where they need to be.”

Apple Computer Founder Steve Wozniak said cybersecurity education is already of vital importance and will become increasingly necessary. Wozniak could not attend in person but sent a video message touting his support.

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“The significance of educating today’s youth on cybersecurity best practices cannot be overstated, as it plays a vital role as it ensures a secured digital landscape,” Wozniak has said. “The integration of cybersecurity in the workforce is a critical aspect that transcends industry boundaries.”

Rodney Rickenbach, a member of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement in Atlantic City, said the’ benefits are clear.

Rodney Rickenbach, a member of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement attended the forum. Photo Credit: Mark Tyler

“Once this goes through, we could get some viable candidates who could support the casino industry through cybersecurity,” Rickenbach said. He has spent time on the Internet-based gambling monitoring unit at the NJ DGE Technical Services Bureau helping to stop hackers from attacking online gaming and even preventing people from out-of-state gambling online in New Jersey.

Legislators and business owners assembled in Atlantic City on Aug. 24, 2023 for the New Jersey-Maryland Small Business Networking Breakfast where U.S. HART CARES and Evans Barnes & Associates, an Annapolis-based government relations and lobbying firm, sponsored the event to encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion, RX5 Cyber Security-Artificial Intelligence youth education, workforce training, and real estate development.

Whitehead said Friday’s (WECU) announcement was the continuation and elevation of ongoing work aimed at improving the nation’s cybersecurity readiness. Whitehead also said, it has the potential to provide high paying jobs in a field with boundless growth potential.

Barnes said the amount of progress made in such a short time is a testament to three things: hard work, dedication, and commitment.

Darryl Barnes. Source: Don Baker Photography

“This is the vision of Jimmy Whitehead to bring workforce development to a space where African Americans are not often found,” said Barnes. “To launch this at the Rayburn building on Capital Hill shows there are members of Congress that value his vision.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Nick Langworthy, of New York, said the technology that has been made available in recent years is great. But it also represents potential vulnerabilities.

U.S. Rep. Nick Langworthy. Source: Don Baker Photography

“We have got to get real about cybersecurity. It needs to be part of every budget,” Langworthy said. “Cybersecurity is not just mischief makers. Ransom wear is real. It’s staggering to think what can be done. Cybersecurity needs to be at the front of mind for everybody at every level.”

Karen Young, CEO of WOZ ED, said the new education model reward system is based on knowledge not certificates.

Karen Young, CEO of WOZ ED. Photo Credit: Mark Tyler

“Cybersecurity is not so much about your sheepskin. It’s about what you can do,” said Young. “You don’t learn welding in a textbook. You learn welding because you’re doing it.”

Horace Jones, president of CyberPoint International, cybersecurity firm of Columbia MD, said training simulates probable scenarios and lets students address potential threats in real time.

Horace Jones. Source: Don Baker Photography

“This is not memorization,” said Jones. “We put you in an environment and put into that environment attacks. The solutions are not checking a box.”

Jones said making this training available to disadvantaged communities creates real opportunities for people to support their families.

“Those skills will get you in the workforce quickly,” Jones said. “We’ve got to get it people who don’t know it exists.”

Sharon Belton-Cottman, president of the Buffalo, New York, Board of Education, said she helped her district institute WOZ ED Training from Kindergarten through 12th grade. She was determined to implement the program after meeting the WOZ ED team at education conferences in Western New York.

Sharon Belton-Cottman Source: Don Baker Photography

“I said I want my kids to do that. That’s how we began moving it forward,” Belton-Cottman said. She said attendance has increased, in part, because students understand the skills they learn convert to real money. “Our kids love it.”

Bob Breidenstein, executive director of the New York State Small City Schools Association, said he was impressed with the possibilities.

Bob Breidenstein, executive director of the New York State Small City Schools Association Source: Don Baker Photography

“This has got some excellent potential to level the playing field for forgotten students and displaced adults,” Breidenstein said. “We represent 57 urban small city schools from the shores of Lake Erie to the tips of Long Island.”

Makaria Lewi-Green, of MDA Naturetech Adventures. Photo Credit: Mark Tyler

Makaria Lewis-Green of MDA Naturetech Adventures, a cybersecurity and technology innovation firm with a focus on using natural renewable resources, said she was excited by the fact that such training could be infused directly into the community.

“I’m learning,” Lewis-Green said. “The biggest thing that I’ve heard is that WOZ ED is working with organizations outside of the schools like the Boys and Girls Club.”

Derek Brock, director of the nonprofit organization the Community Benefits Agreement Group, who is also owner of Community Auto Repair Guy, LLC, and former owner of Mutual Taxi and Limousine, a historically Black-owned business, said the key to success in Atlantic City will be taking the next steps.

Derek Brock is a member of the City of Atlantic City Minority Business Enterprise Advisory Board. Photo Credit: Mark Tyler

“My biggest concern is the follow through, and I hope we have the fortitude for the follow up,” Brock said. “The casinos just didn’t live up to our expectations so Atlantic City right now is in need of a new direction.”

Brock, who was named to the City of Atlantic City Minority Business Enterprise Advisory Board in September 2023, has wanted to see the resort do more to assist the minority business community for more than a decade.

“We can do all the talking. But if we don’t get the results, it’s all for naught,” Brock said. “But I’m excited because they do understand how critical and important this is. Cybersecurity and technology are what’s current today. We don’t have to sell them on this issue. And when you’re working with the federal government, it’s not impossible. There’s a lot of opportunity.”


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