DOD officials push for contractors to hire more cyber talent through apprenticeships

(Getty Images)

As the Department of Defense looks for new ways to bring more cybersecurity talent into its ranks, a pair of top DOD officials have called on defense contractors to consider hiring professionals who don’t have formal college educations, namely through apprenticeships.

In a memo issued Tuesday, DOD CIO John Sherman and William LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, ask officials from across the department and military services to communicate with contractors about considering apprenticeship programs as an alternative pathway to bringing technical talent to the defense industrial base.

Instead of degrees, the department and its contractors can look for members of the cybersecurity workforce “who have obtained appropriate qualifications through training, industry certifications, on-the-job training, or apprenticeship programs,” they write in the memo, adding that the Federal Acquisition Regulations specify that contracts with the federal government “should not routinely describe any minimum experience or educational requirement.”

“Removing formal education-rooted barriers, combined with the use of apprenticeship programs, provides a faster pipeline to acquire talent, increases talent pool, and enhances diversity by allowing applicants to enter the workforce through nontraditional pathways,” the memo says. It also explains that the apprenticeships “provide skills-based pathways for entry-level candidates into cybersecurity jobs, help fill skill gaps in the cybersecurity workforce, and increase opportunities for historically underserved communities.”

The issuance of the memo came as the Biden administration on Tuesday wrapped up a governmentwide Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Sprint with a concluding event at the White House. Sherman introduced the new memo during remarks at that event, which highlighted the creation of 194 cyber apprenticeship programs and more than 7,000 apprentices getting hired during the 120-day sprint.

The DOD itself runs one of the nation’s largest cybersecurity registered apprenticeships, the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program, according to the White House. Under that umbrella, the DOD and Department of Labor created the Federal Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program in January, through which the department “identified and developed standards for 15 critical cybersecurity occupations to not only address military needs, but potentially serve as a model for other Federal agencies as well,” the White House said in a release.

This isn’t the first time an administration has looked to shift federal hiring away from traditional education-based competencies. The Trump White House in June 2020 issued an executive order that created rules that allowed agencies to prioritize skills-based hiring.