August 24, 2022 6 min read

Closing the IT Gap

$6M Missouri Chamber apprenticeship grant is a game changer for the tech industry

This story was featured in the Summer 2022 issue of Missouri Business magazine.

Jazmin Delgado is on the front lines of cybersecurity.

As an apprentice at Cyderes a global cybersecurity solutions provider formed by the recent merger of Fishtech Group and Herjavec Group, with offices in Arkansas and Missouri Delgado identifies malicious emails, thwarts fishing attacks and takes other steps to keep companies safe from costly threats.

Cybersecurity is a broad, complex industry. Delgado, a recent college graduate who grew up in Guatemala, arrived at Cyderes with no experience in the field. But she’s learning on the job as an apprentice.

As she fights cyberattacks, Delgado is able to rely on seasoned colleagues who are mentoring her as she gains experience.

“Having this team around me who has a lot of knowledge has helped me grow and explore,” she said. “I’m just glad I’m in this company.”

Jazmin Delgado, Cyderes Apprentice

Delgado’s apprenticeship is one of more than 1,700 created over the last two years thanks to the Missouri Chamber’s Industry Driven IT Apprenticeship Grant.

Launched in 2020, the program is deploying $6 million in funding from U.S. Department of Labor to expand the use of the apprenticeship model to support our state’s fast-growing technology industry.

Designed to provide support to growing tech employers like Cyderes, the grant is creating a sustainable workforce development system that can remain in place long after the grant concludes.

“Missouri is a top ten state for tech job growth and the demand for technology workers is on the rise,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “Thanks to this program and the work being done to capitalize on our growth opportunity, we are bullish about Missouri’s future as an emerging tech hub.”

Employers in tech have been hit especially hard by the workforce shortage, with thousands of jobs in computer programming, network support, cybersecurity and other tech roles going unfilled. And according to the Missouri Chamber’s 2021 Technology2030 Report, over the next five years, Missouri’s tech sector is projected to grow its workforce by 7.5 percent.

It’s a significant skills gap to close. However, the program is making a significant impact. Through the grant, the Missouri Chamber is on track to develop nearly 5,300 tech apprenticeships across Missouri and beyond to address critical needs in tech workforce shortage areas.

“The Missouri Chamber has really helped us identify where we can beef up our programs, track the metrics better and expand our network,” said Amber Lowry, CyberUp chief of staff. 

CyberUp, one of the Missouri Chamber’s St. Louis grant partners, is a nonprofit that offers an apprenticeship workforce pipeline to companies in need of tech talent.

Mike Schafer is one apprentice who has benefited from CyberUp’s participation in the Industry Driven IT Apprenticeship Grant program. When he graduated from Missouri S&T in the spring of 2020 with a degree in computer science, the pandemic had largely shut the world down.

“I was talking with companies at the time. All that immediately stopped,” said Schafer, who was pursuing a career in cybersecurity. “So, I ended up graduating without any work experience. And any time I tried to reach out to a company, they either wanted interns who were current students, or people with work experience.”

With no job prospects in sight, Schafer wasn’t sure how to move forward. But luck changed for the 25-year-old St. Louisan when he started training in February 2021 through CyberUp. The experience helped him get a foothold on a career.

“I actually last week accepted an offer for a full hire with SSM.” Schafer said. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Leading health care company Centene, based in St. Louis, also hires apprentices via CyberUp. Alan Barry, regional vice president and chief information security officer at Centene, serves as president of CyberUp’s board of directors.

“You can’t afford to buy ten experienced professionals at a time. Most people can’t. So let us help you build three of those ten through the apprentice program,” he said. “It’ll be a much more efficient and effective way especially financially efficient way for companies to bring staff on, identify their talents and then place them where they best fit in their company.”

The best part for candidates wanting to break into the cybersecurity industry? No prior experience required.

“[Apprentices] can be 17 years old; they can be 60 years old. They could have been an accountant or a plumber or a truck driver – we really don’t care. We found that you don’t need to have a college degree to be in cybersecurity,” said Barry. Tyler Moore, a security operations lead at Cyderes, agrees. Moore said he appreciates the apprenticeship training model’s success in non-traditional industries like IT.

“When you hear ‘apprenticeship,’ you think an electrician apprentice, a plumber apprentice, that kind of stuff,” Moore said. “But the apprenticeship model is really just taking somebody with a very baseline knowledge and building them up in a certain way. So for us, it’s been super beneficial. And the similarities between, let’s say, a tech and a tradesman apprenticeship are really not that different. You’re talking about a computer versus physical equipment.”

In addition to CyberUp and Cyderes, current partners in the Missouri Chamber’s grant include Oracle Cerner, Cognizant, LaunchCode and Bitwise Industries.

At Oracle Cerner, the apprentices participate in the company’s DevAcademy training program, helping them develop the skills needed to succeed “DevAcademy was essential for the start of my career at Cerner.” said Travis Augustine, Oracle Cerner DevAcademy Software Engineer. “Since my background was in academics, I didn’t have the opportunity to develop collaboratively with other software engineers on a daily basis outside of class projects. DevAcademy provided with an engaging environment to improve my technical skills and enabled me to apply these technical skills to the team that I joined.”

DevAcademy Mentor Jeffrey Granito stressed how valuable the apprenticeship model was for new employees joining the company.

“Starting a new position in a company as large as Oracle Cerner can be daunting for a new associate, said Granito. “Having a mentor with knowledge makes this transition from college to working easier.”

The concept of mentorship applies beyond the individual apprenticeships. The companies participating in the Industry Driven IT Apprenticeship Grant are also serving as mentors to

other employers who exploring how apprenticeships can help them meet their workforce needs.

“As far as the experience goes with the [Missouri] Chamber, it’s been excellent,” said Cyderes Corporate Recruiter Jessica Cassidy. “I really see it being a win-win for everybody involved.”

That’s certainly the case for Cyderes apprentice Codey Gradey. A recent college graduate, Gradey is currently getting hands-on experience with cybersecurity alongside his fellow apprentice, Delgado. He said it’s been a life changing experience.

“It’s such a big field. You can go anywhere and everywhere with it.” Gradey said. “Right now, we’re at the ground level. We’re the first line of defense for anything that comes into the system. But in a year, we could be doing something completely different. And I love it here. It’s been really great for me.”


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