SkillSmart Partner Spotlight featuring Northern Virginia Community College

Partnership between skillsmart and northern virginia community college

As a founding member of the National Capital Region Cyber Security Task Force (NCR Task Force), we’ve partnered with other organizations similarly passionate about solving for data and cyber security. The NCR Task Force is focused on creating viable solutions that will generate a talented pipeline for the 20K+ cyber security jobs in the DC Metro Region, the model for which we’re hoping can be expanded nationwide to accommodate the estimated 200K+ vacancies.

We sat down with Charles Britt, co-chair of the NCR Task Force and Manager, STEM Education Outreach for Northern Virginia Community College to talk about how we can combat the gap in qualified cyber personnel. His valuable insights have been gained over a long-standing career supporting the US Intelligence Community and serving as an education advocate.

In 2014 Charles was awarded the Bruce Oliver Leadership Award by the Fairfax County Government for his work in developing SySTEMic Solutions, a program designed to create a sustainable STEM pipeline in Northern Virginia. This year he was the inaugural recipient of thePublic Sector Innovator of the Year award by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce for developing a partnership between the the County’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services and Office of Public Private Partnerships to bring a VEX robotics program to 10 Intel Computer Clubhouses within high poverty communities across the county.


SkillSmart (SS): Can you explain what the NCR Cyber Security Task Force is and why you felt it necessary to help found it?  

Charles Britt (CB): The NCR Cyber Security Task Force is a group of subject matter experts from workforce development, government, industry, and higher education who have come together to examine the cybersecurity workforce needs in the NCR and propose viable career pathways through skills based training for individuals with little to no direct experience. The task force was borne out of the growing need to provide employers, workforce development organizations, and institutions of higher education with a blueprint for mapping their training to specific industry credentialing and career pathways that lead to employment in cyber security-related positions in the region.

(SS): In your opinion, what’s the great opportunity and greatest threat with cyber security right now? 

(CB): The greatest opportunity is the creation of jobs required to secure networks and systems across all industries. Similarly, the greatest threat is the lack of qualified candidates with the skills and knowledge to work in all of the industries.

(SS): How have you seen the threats and opportunities with cyber security evolve through your career?

(CB): Both threats and opportunities have grown in breadth and depth over the last 10 years. I feel the biggest threat continues to be state-sponsored terrorism against our financial industry. We’ve seen large-scale attacks against Sony, Target, and others in recent years grow even more in scale. Following these high-profile attacks, the opportunities for advancements in cyber security had to evolve, and quickly. Now both public and private industries recognize the importance of cyber security and are actively engaged in thoughtful conversations about the knowledge – and skills – needed to fill existing jobs and create new jobs in the cyber security arena.

(SS): In your experience, what makes students actively seek out and enroll in cybersecurity, what’s the draw?

(CB): Although not totally realistic, the biggest draw by far for students is the idea of becoming a hacker, lurking in the background stealing money and government secrets like the actors portrayed on television. However, once they’re enrolled in a program, they understand the vast scope of cyber security and how they can ethically transition their abilities as a “hacker” for greater purpose and good, and work to outsmart the hackers. That keeps them engaged.

(SS): For those who don’t actively seek out or haven’t considered a career in cyber security, what do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of cyber security that influences people entering the field?

(CB): The idea that you have to be an “expert” in the field. The cyber security and information assurance domain is so large that no one individual is expected to be an expert in every area such as hardware, software, physical security, disaster recovery, etc. Individuals must hone in on the fields they feel most comfortable learning and growing in, understanding each area requires a slightly different set of skills, abilities, certifications, and educational attainment.

(SS): At what age should we start introducing career opportunities to our youth? How do they identify this is something of interest and how can we expose them early enough to create a pipeline of skills training and qualified talent?

(CB): The first step to introducing youth to career opportunities begins with parents and teachers helping children understand their unique talents and interests as early as kindergarten and continuing through the primary grade levels. Then, starting in middle school, we should be talking to students about different career choices by using career profiles to align their interests to one or more of the 16 career clusters.

(SS): What do you find the greatest challenge of engaging the students you interact with? If you could see a change within education that could have the greatest impact on creating more qualified talent, what would it be?  

(CB): The greatest challenge I find with engaging students is getting them to understand the importance of workplace concepts and practices such as time management, critical thinking, and ethics. Increased teacher professional development and decreased reliance on standardized testing would have a tremendous impact on the quality of talent emerging from the public education system.

(SS): From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges to ensuring students are career-ready?  

(CB): The biggest challenge is the lack of opportunities for students to gain real-world experience by working in a professional environment coupled with the lack of teacher exposure in industry workplaces.

(SS): How do you think SkillSmart can play a role in advancing the skills of our workforce to meet the demands of employers?

(CB): SkillSmart can play a pivotal role in helping employers better define their talent needs which in turn helps prospective employees not only determine their suitability for a position but also where and how to gain the additional skills and knowledge to become a fully qualified candidate. This model encourages individuals to seek advanced skills and attain them from the most appropriate provider in their geographical area.

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SkillSmart Partner Spotlight featuring Montgomery Business Development Corporation and Rx for Employability


SkillSmart start partnership with Montgomery Business Development Corporation

With our corporate office located in Montgomery County, MD, we’ve had the privilege of working with local employers to gain a deeper understanding of their workforce needs and challenges through our partnership with the Montgomery Business Development Corporation (MBDC).

MBDC is an apolitical organization, established by the Montgomery County Council, that provides a business-friendly perspective regarding economic development issues ranging from strategic planning, to retaining and attracting business, and to employer and workforce advocacy. MBDC creates change in the positive economic model of the County by increasing the ability to compete, encouraging culture and innovation, minimizing the cost of doing business, and fostering business growth while improving “quality of place.”

As part of our Partner Spotlight Series, we talked with Ellie Giles, Director of Operations for MBDC to get her take on how the County’s Rx for Employability Program is creating positive change for local and state employers.


SkillSmart (SS): Can you explain the Rx for Employability Program, how it came to be and what it hopes to achieve?

Ellie Giles (EG): The Rx for Employability initiative is a healthcare sector partnership as part ofEARN Maryland, a new state-funded competitive workforce and economic development grant initiative. It’s managed by the leadership of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR). The goal of Rx for Employability is to create a sustainable industry-led career pathway model that addresses current and future workforce needs. We’d like Rx for Employability to set an example for other regions throughout the country and can be easily replicated to create a more qualified workforce at large.

(SS): What are the key components of the program?

(EG): There are several. We’ve developed the program to encompass four key components; Rx for Employability is:

  • Industry Informed: comprised of industry focus groups, interviews and qualitative data that define distinct career pathways.
  • Population Specific: the priority population of the program includes unemployed or underemployed individuals or incumbent workers in need of updated training in Montgomery County.
  • Skills-Oriented: the program provides technical and employability skill training and support.
  • Data Driven: data of individuals by their outcomes is used to measure success and tailor the program as needed.

Rx for Employability has created targeted career pathways to provide a better educated and more skilled workforce in fast-growing positions. We strive to set our participants up for success in three key positions:

  • Pharmacy Technicians: participants can learn the right skills that can lead to a career path in pharmacy.
  • Sterile Equipment Processing Technicians: participants can learn the right skills that can lead to a career path in infection disease control in health care facilities.
  • Medical Coders: Rx for Employability provides continual bridge training from Medical Coders from ICD 9 to meet the requirements of ICD 10 as mandated by Affordable Care Act (10/1/15) so participants can continue along a career pathway in medical records management.

(SS): How does Rx for Employability receive funding?

(EG): Our funding comes in two forms. Maryland State Department of Labor and Licenses (DLLR) awarded MBDC with a $211,000 EARN grant to be paid over a 2 year period (fiscal years 2015 and 2016). We currently have an application pending for additional funding after 2016. Montgomery County Government provided $192,500 of funding for the Rx for Employability through the Department of Economic Development for fiscal year 2015; continued funding is pending.

(SS): How have Industry employers benefited?

(EG): The program has helped employers clearly establish their talent needs and identify internal career pathways not just for employers but for the industry as well. It’s encouraged the development of industry-specific career skills to ensure reliable employability today and into the future, and has provided recommended strategies for HR structures to improve job application processes and raise personnel awareness for entry level (establishing a community/industry connection).

(SS): How have community/training agencies benefited?

(EG): Through a number of ways, but most importantly Rx for Employability has enhanced support services of community and training agencies. The program has coordinated collaboration between 22 non-profit agencies for candidate outreach and participant support services, helping to identify strengths/challenges within the agencies as they interface with industry. It’s also unified a work-ready pipeline and skills development; we currently have a pending grant (for $100,000) to develop appropriate standards for consistent work-ready programs.

(SS): How have your participants benefited?

(EG): We’ve received a number of metrics that mark the success for participants. A few examples include:

  • Increased employment pipeline opportunities for participants through our “Earn while you Learn” process that created unique jobs providing both employment with dignity and apprenticeship training.
  • Individualized employability support to 80 potential Pharmacy Technician candidates through a partnership with CVS Health (interviewing, application completion, dressing, communication etc.).
  • Successful recruitment for Sterile Processing Technician training for 10 participants through a partnership with Adventist HealthCare.
  • Successful outreach for our Medical Coder-Bridge program with 290 participants through a partnership with the Montgomery County Medical Society.

In our first year, we’ve had nearly 400 participants interact with the Rx for Employment Program:

  • Pharmacy Technician: 80
  • Sterile Processing: 26 (Includes training participants and backfill employees)
  • Coder Bridge: 290
  • Total: 396

(SS): What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing the Rx for Employability program?

(EG): Coordinating all the wonderful resources in Montgomery County for a strong collaborative effort. It’s our greatest challenge, but it’s also our greatest reward.

(SS): Do you find that skills training is an issue for the employers with which you interact? 

(EG): MBDC works to engage the business community through business retention and business expansion activities. Strong talent and talent development opportunities are frequently mentioned as a reason for locating their business in Montgomery County. The Rx for Employability program has been enthusiastically embraced by the Healthcare industry and we have already expanded this model to include mid-level occupations with a new Nursing-bridge program providing specialty training.

(SS): What advice do you have for other jurisdictions looking to implement a program similar to Rx for Employability?

(EG): Listen to the industry to determine the skills needed for entry into a sector. Working with the industry sectors has not only allowed us to provide comprehensive skills training (technical and work-ready skills), but also provide the training to be progressive by addressing skills for future needs. We’ve been able create a sustainable career pathway.

(SS): What are the biggest challenges to ensuring students are career-ready?

(EG): The Rx for Employment program recruits from the wonderful non-profit community agencies in the County. Currently, we are partnering with 26 different programs to recruit candidates. The work-ready training provided by each non-profit program varies, and we’ve learned that a consistent work-readiness program across all programs is needed. To address this issue, we have applied for and have been granted additional State funding to pilot a work-readiness training program (based on input from employers) that we hope can be disseminated to all agencies and organizations within the County. The program will be competency-based with practical hands-on learning opportunities within a variety of work places.

(SS): How do you think SkillSmart can play a role in advancing the skills of our workforce to meet the demands of employers?

(EG): Making connections between current and needed skills and career opportunities is valuable support for our unemployed and underemployed. According to The Washington Business Journal, the March 2015 unemployment rate in the Washington area is 4.7%. The current opportunities require specialized skills. The SkillSmart technology is a fantastic tool to address the current employment needs by providing graphic progress reports and connections to the right skill training programs.

Learn more about Rx for Employability and how Montgomery County is working to train its regional workforce with the right skills employers need.

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