As a major contractor of cybersecurity services to the U.S. government, defense giant Northrop Grumman is in dire need of young talent in this rapidly expanding field. A big part of the corporation’s philanthropy for STEM education seeks to build a pipeline of young people skilled in computer systems protection. And they're putting participants right to work.
For five years running, Northrop Grumman Foundation has been the premier sponsor of the CyberPatriot National High School Defense Competition, which engages young people to learn about computer systems and security vulnerabilities. Open to private, public and service-related educational institutions, teams of participants compete to close virtual holes in computer systems. It’s one of a handful of STEM competitions the corporate foundation supports, and one of the fastest growing, according to Northrop Grumman.
Cybersecurity is a term often thrown about by defense agencies and governments, but there are legitimate and complex threats out there, and the industry dedicated to protecting computer systems is booming as a result. It may seem like an obscure thing for a teenager to get into, but it’s a huge area of potential employment, with job postings growing more than three times the rate of computer jobs overall, according to one job data firm. Demand is far outpacing supply of young people entering the field.
Foundations at companies such as Intel and Motorola often task themselves with getting more young people into STEM education to overcome talent shortages coming out of American schools. Competitions or other out-of-school activities are common approaches they use to draw kids into science education. For example, in 2013 Northrop Grumman gave nearly $27 million in charitable giving overall, with $11 million coming from the foundation primarily for STEM education. A big part of that funding from Northrop Grumman goes to initiatives like robotics competitions, scholarships to Space Camp, and a summer engineering camp for African American students.
But the CyberPatriot program is a pretty unique one, and seems to be a much more direct pipeline sending young, tech savvy teens into the field of employment as soon as possible. Internships start as young as 16 at Northrop Grumman. In 2013 the company hired 32 former participants of the competition. It’s no wonder they've pledged another $4.5 million to keep the competition going into 2016.
The corporate foundation is also working to draw students in at the college level, partnering with the University of Maryland for a Cyber Scholars program to get more women and underrepresented minorities into the field, as well as an honors undergraduate cyber security program.