One of the realizations of post-COVID life is how much national security work can be done outside of the National Capital Region. What has been an idea for a time is now a reality – thousands of workers, even those in critical roles supporting the government, are now working remotely, taking advantage of shift schedules, and participating in flexible work options. There is one state uniquely poised to take advantage of that fact, and also actively working to promote its existing workforce and advance national security careers in the region – West Virginia.

A recent virtual forum hosted by the Discover Real West Virginia (DRWV) Foundation, The West Virginia Public Education Collaborative, and West Virginia Forward. The event brought together government and business leaders to discuss cybersecurity, technology advancement, and how to attract and retain a quality high-tech workforce to address current challenges.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin III, honorary chair, DRWV Foundation, discussed the ongoing work to keep West Virginia competitive for government and attractive to workers.

“West Virginia’s cyber and technology sectors have grown considerably over the past few years because we’re the perfect home with a dedicated workforce, room to grow, and proximity to Washington, D.C.,” said Sen. Manchin. “With many companies and agencies trending towards teleworking models, we’re working hard to attract more development and growth to West Virginia. That means we have to prioritize training our workforce here too through trade schools, and providing paths to good paying jobs right out of school. West Virginia can provide the needs of the cyber and technology companies, and I look forward to seeing the progression of this sector here in the Mountain State.”

Katie Arrington, chief information security officer for the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment updated on the Pentagon’s cybersecurity priorities, including changes to the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation (DFAR), making cybersecurity foundational to every contract.

Contractors on new awards will have to attest to how they’re controlling the 110 controls of the National Industrial Security Program (NISP), noted Arrington. “It’s creating an entirely new pathway and segment of work,” she noted.

“We have 300,000 companies in the defense industrial base who have to get certified in five years – it’s an incredible new workforce of individuals,” said Arrington, noting that anyone who has served in the military will be an ideal for these new cyber auditing positions.

Security Clearances and Government Cyber Workers

A panel focused on the security clearance process and how it affects national security hiring in the region. Employers in the state noted that security clearance processing delays can affect their ability to attract and retain workers, but progress has been made in recent years. Officials from the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency said both facility and personnel security processing continue to move forward despite COVID-19. And while clearance processing times remain slightly higher than the goal, they are vastly improved over prior 500+ day figures for a Top Secret security clearance investigation. And while there has been significant improvement, defense officials noted that even more changes would come – tantamount to a ‘sea change in vetting’ – particularly when it comes to maintaining a cleared position.

Preparing to Attract the Next Generation of Cyber Talent

The final two panels of the virtual forum focused on building the talent pipeline and equipping employers to address cyber challenges. There are 44 colleges dispersed throughout West Virginia, and addressing the cyber challenges of today and into the future will require activating that pipeline of potential – both cyber and tech graduates, and those with potential who might not yet have even considered the career. West Virginia is working to create new resources for tech start-ups and entrepreneurs in the state, including the 3 Steps to Start Up initiative, a program offering resources for business start-ups. The program has been around for almost a year, and launched with a $1.2 million boost via a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to the INNOVA Commercialization Group, an initiative of the High Technology Foundation, along with the W.Va. Jobs Investment Trust and TechConnectWV. The three steps are awareness and education, commercialization and investment – both early and long-term. The idea is to boost economic diversification in the West Virginia counties who need it most.

Entrepreneurs Welcome, Opportunity Available

As West Virginia works to expand opportunities and attract investment, cyber is a natural fit – both due to the ongoing need of cyber talent and the state’s proximity to the Washington metro.

The threats only continue to grow, and while the cyber challenges faced today may seem new, Arrington emphasized the advent of cyber isn’t much different than the invention of fire – when humanity had to harness the power it had created, and find safeguards for the risks.

“When man invented cyber, he had to learn the rules of risk associated with touching the technology,” said Arrington. That’s what today’s cyber professionals – in new and emerging career fields, sometimes in positions that didn’t even exist a year or two ago – are doing today.

Within a stone’s throw of the nation’s capital, West Virginia is well equipped to continue to attract more talent, and more contracting opportunities in cyber and advanced technology. With a lower cost of living and a qualified workforce, defense contractors moving to secure remote work environments may increasingly find themselves moving West – where they’re Wild, Wonderful – and Wired.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.