For remote learning in government, coronavirus cyber training could prove transformational

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Agencies are increasingly seeking training on cybersecurity fundamentals during coronavirus telework, offering the government a rare chance to transform how its employees learn using the NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework.

Developed by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education framework breaks down agency work roles, like cyber defense analyst, to their core knowledge, skills, abilities and tasks (KSATs).

The COVID-19 pandemic presents agencies with the opportunity to audit their employees and determine where there are cyber skills gaps that remote learning can fill, Rodney Petersen, NICE director, told FedScoop.

“The discussions I’m hearing at the moment are less about the training needs and more about how the entire learning ecosystem could be fundamentally changed,” Petersen said. “And cybersecurity could become the pilot for how that is implemented and rethought in this current environment.”

Cyber workforce development firm CyberVista has seen an uptick in requests — almost exclusively from a “handful” of federal agencies — for digital forensics and basic training as the coronavirus spreads, said CEO Simone Petrella.

Federal employees using mobile devices for remote work leaves them more exposed to cyber threats, meaning roles that aren’t traditionally focused on security suddenly require that knowledge to a greater degree, Petrella said.

“Outside of the forensic requirement, I actually think that the biggest need I’ve seen across the board is in fundamental and baseline skills for entry- to mid-level staff that can ultimately be upskilled and trained to those more specialized roles,” she said.

The NICE Framework not only helps agencies identify what roles they need but how to measure the effectiveness of training so employees can ultimately fill those positions.

Agencies remain in the early stages of workforce considerations as they focus on mission-critical functions in the face of COVID-19, Petersen said.

“One of the skills that people are going to take for granted during this time period is the impact telework has on what we call professional, soft or employability skills,” he said. “Because obviously we don’t have the same level of face-to-face or interpersonal interactions we would in the workplace.”

Video conferencing can be used to preserve those skills, as can virtual learning environments like cyber ranges, Petersen said.

Common mistakes include agencies thinking they can simply stick instructors in front of webcams and relying too heavily on lecture-based curriculums, Petrella said.

Hands-on learning ensures employees can actually do the work required by allowing for qualitative, technical assessments, which CyberVista already conducts in distributed environments like the one the coronavirus has created, she said.

“We’re in this remote environment, and so everyone feels fairly isolated,” Petrella said. “So you don’t want to necessarily give them an experience where they are isolated.”

NICE issued a call for proposals Tuesday for its annual conference scheduled for November in Atlanta. Several early proposals centered on continuity of learning during the pandemic.

Figuring out how to accommodate a more remote workforce throughout the talent lifecycle is critical, and a move toward online learning in government will allow for greater experimentation and innovation, Petersen said.

“I think it’s going to revolutionize telework as we see how it’s both possible and potentially productive,” he said. “It’s certainly going to cause us to reconsider employment from a distance for a variety of careers including cybersecurity, and, of course, it’s going to require that we rethink how we learn.”

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coronavirus, cybersecurity training, CyberVista, National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework, remote learning, Rodney Petersen
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