Nonprofit for at-risk youths is helping banks solve cyber talent shortage

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Good cybersecurity professionals are hard to find if you’re a bank. They’re in high demand, they often have multiple job offers, and they can be very expensive.

So when Bank of New York Mellon learned that the workforce development nonprofit Year Up was piloting a cybersecurity skills program, the $353 billion-asset trust bank jumped at the opportunity to take on six of those interns.

“When you talk about skills shortages, cyber has got to be at the very top of the list. When you’re looking for experienced folks, it’s almost like hand-to-hand combat in recruiting,” said Michael Biedermann, who heads recruitment for the bank’s technology and operations functions. “It’s very, very tough hiring skilled cyber folks. We’re so excited to have the six Year Up interns we have focusing on cyber and if it works out well, we’re certainly going to hire more.”

The Boston-based Year Up has long found a sweet spot placing its interns in the financial services industry. Its new cybersecurity track is one way the organization is responding to the needs of an industry that’s increasingly competing not just with other banks for the best talent, but also with tech companies.

Year Up’s mission is essentially twofold: To provide job training and career opportunities for young adults without a college degree and to help companies fill the skills gaps in entry-level jobs that can ultimately be gateways into profitable careers. The organization pulls its candidates from low- to moderate-income communities and trains them in both technical skills and soft skills in a classroom setting for six months before enrolling them in an internship with one of its corporate partners.

Year Up has been rolling out the new cybersecurity track piecemeal, across different locations, since its inception in 2015. In that time, it’s graduated 284 students from the cybersecurity program, with 130 of those ultimately converting to full-time positions after their internship ended. Currently, Year Up has 69 students in its cybersecurity program.

A recent federal study of workforce development programs found that Year Up candidates earned roughly 53% more money than peers who had not completed the program. Year Up graduates were also 18% more likely to go on to earn other professional certifications or licenses after completing the program.

Though Year Up works with hundreds of organizations spanning a range of different fields, banks especially like the program as a recruiting tool. Banks can struggle to fill certain entry-level jobs with college grads who might balk at a $39,000 starting salary, but they’ve seen great success with Year Up candidates, who often prove to be loyal employees.

As Year Up has expanded, it’s worked with its partner companies to help them think differently about the career paths they can build for their own employees, said John Bradley, its chief operating officer. One important example of this is in trying to persuade companies that they don’t need to require a post-secondary degree for all of their entry-level jobs.

“We’ve worked a lot with employers in trying to get them to understand and change their focus or their demand on having a four-year degree to be a prospect,” Bradley said.

Likewise, Year Up has consistently sought feedback from its partner companies on how it can help its candidates prepare to join the workforce. That might mean soft skills, but it also includes technical skills that can give its interns an advantage in certain entry-level jobs.

One example of that is a track that Year Up developed, with input from JPMorgan Chase, to train interns for entry-level jobs in preventing money laundering, Bradley said.

The cybersecurity pilot is another example. Rick Bardine, Year Up’s senior director of program solutions, said that students in that track learn about things such as security policies and procedures and incident monitoring and investigation. Year Up can’t train for every single function that falls under the umbrella of cybersecurity, but it can equip its students with skills that will help them at least get a foot in the door.

“There is a reasonable set of training courses that can bring our students to a level of knowledge about cybersecurity,” he said. “It really positions them very nicely for those entry-level positions.”

Another one of Year Up’s partner companies, Bank of America, took a page from the nonprofit’s book when it announced earlier this year that it would hire 10,000 people from low- to moderate-income communities, said John Jordan, managing director and head of the company’s onboarding program, The Academy.

“We really think of them as a key strategic source of talent, in providing a diverse pipeline of really motivated, hardworking young adults from the communities which we work in,” he said. “We really view them as subject matter experts and as advisers for us.”

Bank of America has accepted a total of 470 interns since it began partnering with Year Up in 2006 and of those, 200 have ultimately converted to full-time jobs.

Though the bank has placed them across a range of roles within the company, Jordan said it’s recently found success in training them as “digital ambassadors,” in-branch staff who help customers navigate the bank’s digital offerings.

Biedermann said that BNY Mellon views Year Up as another recruiting tool, just like hackathons or meet-ups aimed at attracting tech talent.

“What worked in the past was, you’d have a role, you’d post it and wait for candidates to apply,” he said. “That type of reactive recruiting has gone out the window. You have to be much more proactive and aggressive if you want to find great talent.”

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Cyber security Training Workforce management Diversity and equality BNY Mellon JPMorgan Chase Bank of America Massachusetts