With new advancements in AI, cybersecurity, and other tech sectors, solving the skills gap does not seem to be getting any easier.
In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, youth participation in the labor force has been steadily decreasing and was exacerbated by the pandemic. But even for those with formal education, their skills often are not aligned with employers’ needs.
Recognizing the challenges ahead, companies like Okta—which deals with identity and cloud management—are investing in the future of workforce development.
This month, Okta announced it was investing $1.6 million in organizations that provide career training and advancement opportunities for underrepresented communities. The funding will help organizations like ColorStack, WiCys (Women in Cybersecurity), and Year Up.
The latter is a nonprofit dedicated to providing tuition free job training—with the goal of closing the opportunity divide. Gerald Chertavian is Year Up’s founder and CEO.
“Year Up’s mission is to close the opportunity divide by ensuring that young adults gain the skills, experiences, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through careers and higher education,” he tells Fortune.
The organization provides tuition free skills training pathways in in-demand subjects such as cybersecurity, data analytics, and project management support. It focuses on equipping students with attitudinal, behavioral and communication skills.
Chertavian says nationwide, 4 out of 5 Year Up graduates are employed or attending college within four months of completing the program, with average starting salaries of $52,000. For those in the organization’s cybersecurity track, grads earn $57,000.
“Entry-level cybersecurity roles offer competitive pay, growth opportunity, and job security,” he says.
Todd McKinnon, Okta’s co-founder and CEO, says it is important for Okta to give back to communities and industries it works with and help train current and future generations about the modern tech landscapes.
An adversarial industry
On top of the help toward training organizations, Okta also plans to provide 5,000 educational grants for those seeking a career transition to cybersecurity.
The grants will target individuals recently displaced from tech jobs, including veterans and their spouses and provide access to the Okta’s learning platform and certification program.
An additional challenge to the existing skills shortage is the adversarial nature of the cybersecurity industry, McKinnon says.
“Once you get all the jobs filled, the adversary, i.e. the attackers, are going to do something different. So you have to be able to adjust and that part’s challenged with cybersecurity,” he notes.
Overall, the better the industry gets at building adaptive tech to confront emerging threats—along with training people and filling jobs—the better off the world will be. AI, he says, will also be an integral part of this innovation.
Grant recipients must reside in the US and have on-the-job experience working in information technology or software development.
Shifting away from degree litmus tests
The tech sector is also shifting toward adopting a more skills-first approach, instead of exclusively valuing a person’s traditional education. McKinnon himself says he finds himself valuing someone who is hungry, eager, and flexible instead of putting a litmus test on a college degree.
“With technology changing so fast and cybersecurity changing so fast, I found myself valuing more things like potential, focus, work ethic, versus pedigree, direct experience,” he tells Fortune.
For those wanting to break out into the world of tech, he encourages people to look at the big picture and think about how you can leverage your skills to fit new deavors and growth opportunities.