VENTURA, Calif. (KABC) -- Organizations around the world are increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats. While the number of people working in cybersecurity is at record levels, there's a need for more, especially women. But where will they be found? Some might say middle school.
The need for cybersecurity professionals is expected to grow by almost 3.5 million jobs this year when compared to 2021 numbers, but the available workforce isn't keeping pace.
Many in the industry say the gap is largely because of a lack of interest from young people entering the cybersecurity job market, particularly women who only account for 25% of the jobs.
"There is an underserved community of women engineers in technology," said Scott Reed, a senior account executive at ePlus Technology.
DeAnza Academy of Technology and the Arts in Ventura now has GRIT: Girls Re-Imagining Tomorrow. Founded on the East coast in 2017 by ePlus Technology, GRIT shows middle school girls the possibilities available to them with a career in technology.
Middle school is an important age to start because a recent survey of women who work in the field showed 78% developed an interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, in middle or high school.
"Being able to work with Patagonia, ePlus and other community partners has provided all our girls a networking system to figure out for themselves, 'Hey, I can realize this dream that I have,' and because of what we do here at the school, it really makes the learning relevant. It brings the learning to life," said Carlos Cohen, the principal of DeAnza Academy of Technology and the Arts.
The program has grown to seven schools across the nation, introducing girls to online safety, public speaking and business etiquette, while inspiring curiosity in various areas of STEM through field trips similar to a trip to NOAA in Oxnard where other young women explained their path to success to the girls from DATA.
"A bunch of the ladies we have met so far are engineers who work on boats and solve problems and that is something I might want to do in the future and seeing how they do it and what resources they use really helped me," said GRIT participant Gwen Anderson.
"When I think of jobs, I think like, firefighters or like, police or doctors. But, now I can see there's people who help the environment or people who make software or even like, make clothes," said Flor Arroyo, who is also a participant in GRIT.
GRIT was so popular in year one, there was a wait list to get involved for year two. So the DATA team created a GRIT club that includes any girls who want to get involved.
Reed explained what he hopes GRIT can accomplish over time.
"I want them to dream and I want them to imagine, and if we arm them with the confidence and the mentorship and a lot of the core curriculum that we're doing, they can say, 'I can see myself doing this,' and I think it provides a lot of hope and encouragement about the future," said Reed.