With nearly 900 students currently enrolled in technology-related majors, Howard Community College (HCC) is expanding its tech course offerings and strengthening its relationships with local businesses even more.

Approximately 500 of those students have chosen the cybersecurity program, HCC’s fastest-growing tech option. And this spring, HCC also will have its new TechHire initiative up and running. The nationwide, community-based movement is designed to help underrepresented job seekers start careers in the technology industry.

TechHire partners with education providers from across the tech community to teach in-demand skills to people who want to take part in the modern economy, and helps them find jobs by connecting them to a network of employers looking for tech talent.

HCC and the Howard Tech Council (HTC) are partnering to found a new TechHire community to train individuals and create pathways to access jobs in technology fields, including computer science, information technology, cybersecurity and computer forensics. With the new initiative, Howard County becomes one of the 20 newest TechHire communities, joining a national network of 71 TechHire communities across the country.

“Our goal is to provide 70% or 75% of students with apprenticeships or internships,” said Rose Volynskiy, chair of technology at HCC.

Rapidly Growing

With rapid growth continuing in the local cybersecurity sector, HCC students’ classroom experiences mimic real-life situations they will have to tackle on the job, said Mengistu Ayane, associate professor in cybersecurity at HCC. “We are simulating real-life scenarios,” he said, “from intrusion detection to firewalls to demilitarized zones to vulnerability assessments.”

Students who participate in HCC’s Cyber Defense Club even spend their extracurricular time looking at different kinds of threats and how to mitigate them by building cyberdefense mechanisms with tools.

Through an initiative funded by the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program, HCC is one of 14 Maryland community colleges using a grant to accelerate HCC students through a two-year degree that is aligned with National Security Agency guidelines for security and information assurance programs, one-year certificate programs and courses leading to industry certifications. This initiative, called the Cyber Technology Pathways Across Maryland program, also allows HCC to provide participants with upfront assessments, career planning, mentors and job search support.

A one-on-one mentorship has been key for students who are new to the academic program and profession, said Ayane, “and sometimes we simply invite the experts in the field and they talk to our students.”

The Match Game

HCC began officially matching students with employers through TechHire in January. Legwork done prior to the rollout of TechHire ensured that students were absorbing skills the local cybersecurity industry needs. “Many businesses in Howard County identified their needs,” said Sharon Schmickley, chair of HCC’s business and computers division.

Students have been creating résumés and sites for LinkedIn, the professional online networking tool, that match the employers’ requests.

The 2017 Hot Jobs report, recently released by Randstad, one of the largest human resources services and staffing companies in the country, reveals the most in-demand and emerging jobs across the country are in engineering, finance and accounting, human resources, information technology, life sciences, manufacturing and logistics, office and administration and non-clinical health care.

Not only are the hot jobs changing, but the way students search for jobs has altered as well, said Schmickley. “People are getting picked up on LinkedIn or through other professional online groups,” she said. “You’re not going through a placement service. You’re being looked at electronically.”

Becoming Marketable

For students, making yourself marketable can be a constantly changing target. Twenty-six-year-old Basma Khanjar is enrolled in HCC’s information technology program and is majoring in mobile application development. A third-year student at HCC, she plans to transfer to either UMBC or the University Maryland, College Park. “I was doing some volunteer work in web design for small businesses just for practice, and I started studying at HCC,” she said, “and they opened a new major in mobile app development. I’m applying for summer internships as well.”

Through TechHire, increasing numbers of students will be working with employers through an apprenticeship model in which they participate in on-the-job learning. The employer pool includes more than 200 regional employers that participate in the HTC. By 2020, the Howard County TechHire initiative aims to train and place 800 individuals, with an emphasis on long-term unemployed, minorities and the military.

Sometimes a technical skill is ultimately what makes a student marketable, pointed out Schmickley.

“We have a student who just got hired by Under Armour,” she said. “He was a political science major who picked up the programming language Python. Guess who got hired after he learned Python? You need to have some technical skills.”