The 2019 CyberSmart Summit (May 29-30) will bring together leaders from industry, academia, and government to advance national and international collaboration in cybersecurity skills and workforce development. This multi-day event, now in its third year, is designed to help identify the actions required to move towards overcoming the workforce challenges we face.

Rima Aristocrat, President and CEO, Willis College is a prominent Canadian advocate for increasing the role of women in the IT/cybersecurity workforce. She is among the featured speakers at this year’s event.

ONB spoke to her ahead of the Summit.

ONB: First, can you give us some background on Willis College and your work?

Rima Aristocrat - Willis College - CyberSmart SummitAristocrat: One of the most pressing challenges the industry faces is the growing demand for cybersecurity talent. With the global demand expected to reach 1.8 million by 2022, being proactive and cooperative is not just a good option, it’s the only option. That is why I am thrilled to be a part of CyberSmart 2019.

Six years ago, Willis College initiated an industry-led partnership to develop industry recognized networking and cybersecurity curricula and deliver these diploma programs quickly. Industry chose Willis because they needed a school that was agile and found that working with private career college like Willis was the right way to go.

Success with that initiative lead to more global industry partnerships. Willis has led the development of Canada’s first multivendor cybersecurity academy. Today, Willis’ Cybersecurity Analyst Diploma Program is the only program in Canada recognized by our Department of National Defence (DND).

Your Summit panel is entitled Engaging More Girls and Women in Cybersecurity. Tell us about that.

There is great interest in increasing female representation in the cybersecurity field. Our networking and cybersecurity classrooms are still 97 per cent male.

With the Engaging Women in Cyber Defence Program, we have created a great career path for women interested in cybersecurity, one that is supported by DND. It’s become a passion of mine. I come from a family of three sisters and have four daughters and four granddaughters myself. It’s important to me that girls today don’t miss out on opportunities within this well-paying field. We don’t want a repeat of what happened with the trades. Women were long told they could not be plumbers or carpenters. Generations of girls missed out on careers in the trades.

The program is a partnership between Calian Ltd. and the Veteran Friendly Transition Program. Veterans are great candidates as they have been security cleared. They have defended our nation with their lives and still want to serve their country. It’s an easy jump for them to move to the frontlines and take their careers into cybersecurity. Through the program, we have learned about and worked to resolve the things that are keeping women from joining the sector. The first consultation event was held in New Brunswick, and your team was fantastic to work with.

Military, NGOs, industry, and educational institutions are all looking for more females to join the cybersecurity field. So, our CyberSmart presentation will include some points and recommendations on what can be done about getting more women to pursue careers in this sector.

Anything you’re looking forward to at the Summit?

I’m a lifelong learner and enjoy meeting likeminded people in our industry. Events like CyberSmart bring people together and the brainstorming that results is incredible. The caliber of speakers this year, people like Dr. Mansur Hasib, is excellent. Dr. Hasib has previously joined us in Ottawa to present a two-week course on cybersecurity leadership. Every organization should be taking that course.

New Brunswick has taken the right approach; collaboration across industry, academia, and government. Nobody can tackle our talent shortage alone. Not nearly enough people are trained for this industry and we will need them to grow our tech companies in Canada. With the continued support of organizations like CyberNB, we will continue to get more women in the sector and close the skills gap. You are bringing some amazing people together, and I truly applaud what your team has done with this event. I have stuff up my sleeve that I’ll share at the event, which I think is going to be one of the best I’ve ever been asked to participate in.

Join us on May 29-30 in Fredericton for CyberSmart 2019. Registration is still open, with early bird pricing available until April 30.