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IBM “New Collar” Security Jobs Training: What Does It Mean for MSSPs?

IBM is now into its seventh month of stumping for “new collar” security workers, using many of the same tactics as it has to tout its “strategic imperatives” and Watson strategies.

In those earlier instances the vendor talked up partners. But with training and developing security pros, IBM has yet to mention a role for MSSPs or other security partners. We’ll give you some clues why and connect a few dots in a moment.

Yesterday, the company disclosed plans to close a widening skills gap for cybersecurity professionals, by some figures said to be the root cause of 1.8 million standing security-related jobs going unfilled. The answer, IBM said, lies in next generation trade school education and new ways to view the talent pipeline.

IBM Security Training: Key Alliances

The key takeaway from IBM’s “new collar” education reveal is that the company isn’t all talk, indeed, it’s got skin in the game. The vendor intends to up its financial backing in alternative education models such as a cybersecurity training program for millennials called the Hacker Highschool project–birthed from a collaboration with the Institute for Security and Open Methodologies (ISECOM)–and the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech).

The latter, which IBM believes will sport another 20 facilities in the next year and ultimately boast 100 locations, serves as a conduit linking high schools, colleges and businesses to help students prepare for next generation technology jobs such cybersecurity.

Additionally, IBM intends to take its “new collar” show on the road, figuratively speaking, offering the security industry its calculations and recommendations on remaking cybersecurity talent models, and, in the process serving up a new white paper as reference. Candidly, it’s all heady, admirable stuff.

“Industry leaders need to take an active part in resolving the talent issues we’re facing, by investing in new models and extending the pipeline to focus on hands-on skills and experience over degrees alone,” IBM Security GM Marc van Zadelhoff said, in a singular statement describing the company’s thinking.

IBM And New Collar IT Jobs

Now for a brief history on the “new collar” deal:

Ginni Rometty

Last November, IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty penned a letter to then President-elect Trump in which she first advocated for “new collar” IT jobs, pointing out that in certain practice areas relevant skills, not necessarily college degrees, is what matters most to the company.

Rometty followed that one month later with an op-ed piece vowing to hire some 25,000 professionals in the next four years in the U.S., starting with 6,000 this year. She pledged $1 billion to train and develop the new look workforce that would include security personnel.

As we know, the hiring proclamation came on the heels of three significant layoffs by the company in 2016, reportedly hitting hard many veteran employees.

In late April, the CEO got out on the stump again, this time touting IBM’s collaboration with new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reemphasize more vocationally-focused education options around tech skills, including hybrid curricula aimed at millennials.

IBM Security Training and MSSPs?

Now for some dots to connect:

As we mentioned, IBM’s silence on security partners is kind of loud–preferring instead to point to the skills-specific education and training of future security pros who, ostensibly, will work for IBM some day.

Perhaps IBM isn’t counting on–or perhaps even considering–MSSPs to fill the security skills gap itself, which if you think about it, is every bit as much about meeting the security needs of businesses, as in customers. That’s an odd one. Frankly, who best to meet that need than MSSPs? So wouldn’t it be in IBM’s interest not only to talk about educating future security pros but also connecting the dots to MSSPs?

Yes, of course, IBM’s education vision is about, well, education, but if hands-on experience can trump college degrees as IBM says it does, who’s got the most experience out there? Hmmm….  No doubt IBM is in somewhat of a tricky spot. The company itself is an MSSP of sorts — which also striving to develop and offer security tools to peer MSSPs.

And then there’s IBM’s white paper, entitled “It’s not where you start–it’s how you finish: Addressing the cybersecurity skills gap with a new collar approach.”

One way for an industry to address a talent shortage, IBM writes, is to look at operating models, such as managed service providers. But, the vendor added, outsourcing isn’t going to close the cybersecurity skills gap. The way ahead is to focus on alternative talent pipelines, the cornerstone of the “new collar” approach.

On a related side note, last week, IBM appears to have reassigned or laid off an untold number of workers worldwide across a variety of business units, including Cloud and Smarter Workforce. Some employees said they’ve been told that the company’s human resources department will help them find new positions internally, including in security, according to an IBM employee Facebook page.

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