While unemployment lines remain long elsewhere, SafeNet Inc. is one Maryland employer that's hiring. The Belcamp cyber security firm has more than 100 job openings for consultants.
But so far this year, it has only been able to fill four of those positions.
That's because in the white-hot world of cyber security, there's a lot of opportunity but not enough qualified workers to take advantage. As the federal government, contractors who support federal agencies and private companies ramp up spending to secure complex computer networks, they are all competing for a tight pool of high-tech specialists and workers with government security clearances.
"They're just hard to find," said Joe Moorcones, SafeNet's vice president of cyber security. "Everybody's going after them."
The shortage of job candidates has prompted state officials to craft strategies for creating a capable workforce. Economic development officials hope to step up marketing to lure cyber security companies and workers to Maryland, while educational efforts are being ramped up, too.
The University of Maryland University College in Adelphi is launching a cyber security curriculum this fall, with a bachelor's and two master's degree programs. Community colleges in Maryland also are offering students certifications in cyber security-related tracks.
In Maryland, one of the biggest employers in cyber security is the National Security Agency at Fort Meade. And the federal infrastructure here is expanding.
Last week, federal officials announced a $10 million grant to create a National Cyber Security Center of Excellence at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, which would allow private industry and government to collaborate on digital security standards.
The federal government isn't the only one hiring. At ARINC Inc. in Annapolis, for example, company officials anticipate needing to hire 200 to 300 cyber security professionals over the next couple of years to work for their commercial and military customers.
Vice Admiral Bernard "Barry" McCullough III, head of the U.S. Navy's Fleet Cyber Command, also based at Fort Meade, said recently that he needs to recruit and hire another 100 people — mostly civilian and military cyber security specialists — to fully staff his 200-person command.
"We need to increase that talent pool that everybody is after," McCullough said.
Measuring the size of the cyber security sector is difficult, but surveys show demand for technical expertise is skyrocketing.
The number of jobs posted on ClearanceJobs.com by companies and recruiters looking for professionals with active federal security clearances has jumped 11 percent to 6,100 openings this year from fewer than 5,500 in the same time period last year.
Among the jobs most in demand are systems engineers, military software engineers and software developers. And the jobs are highly paid. According to the website, technology pros in the Baltimore-Washington corridor make on average $82,100, and those with an active clearance on average make a 20 percent premium, or nearly $99,800.
A broader measure of private sector employment in computer systems shows that the number of jobs in Maryland has more than doubled in the span of two decades — from 29,900 in June 1990 to 64,900 jobs in June of this year.
The demand has spurred the federal government and corporations to support new education initiatives — in Maryland and beyond — to help train workers in defending computer networks from cyber attacks that can come from thieves, hackers and terrorists.
Last week, Anne Arundel Community College and the county workforce development corporation announced $4.9 million in federal funding to train 1,000 workers for cyber security jobs over the next three years. Students will complete certifications in digital forensics and cyber security at community colleges in Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties.
UMUC's cyber security curriculum includes a bachelor's degree program, with students taking a mix of liberal arts and technical courses, such as network security and computer forensics. The university also offers two master's programs designed for midcareer professionals, one with a more technical orientation and the other with a policy focus.
Susan C. Aldridge, UMUC's president, said the university worked for two years to develop the programs and contacted area employers to gauge the demand for students graduating with cyber security skills. One company she spoke with said it could hire 200 cyber security professionals on the spot, Aldridge said.
So far, 300 students have applied to the programs, Aldridge said. The school expects to have a few thousand students focused on cyber security in the next few years, she said.
"Cyber security is going to be a topic of discussion in every organization in the country that utilizes the Internet," Aldridge said.
A report on preparing for the nation's cyber security needs last year by Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, found that federal scholarship programs designed to fill government openings were producing only 120 graduates a year with cyber security education — while the need was closer to 1,000 a year across several federal agencies.
Challenges abound in building a cyber security workforce, particularly for the federal government's defense and intelligence agencies and private contractors that work with them. Part of the difficulty isn't simply finding people with the right technical abilities, but making sure they can also qualify for a security clearance.
And the limited workforce means that government agencies and the private sector must compete. McCullough said defense agencies often can't match salaries paid by corporations and contractors, but they can provide workers tremendous real-life experiences and involvement in critical missions.
"When we try to get people to work for us, we talk about the quality of the work and the level they'll participate," McCullough said.
But Rich LaPerch, founder and CEO of Columbia-based Aegis Mobile, said technology jobs with government or contractors have become more attractive and can lure talent away from technology firms that don't focus on government work. Aegis helps companies build websites for mobile phones and does not have government clients.
"Government people now get paid better, have better benefits and better pensions," LaPerch said. "Security spending is a little bit sexy in this area."
In Maryland, the strategy to build a workforce for technology and cyber security appears to be twofold, part marketing effort to lure companies and workers, and part long-term educational planning, starting with encouraging math and science studies at the earliest levels of schooling from elementary to high school.
"I believe our next employees are now in the 10th grade," said Larry Cox, vice president of SAIC Inc., an information technology-focused defense contractor. "We've got about six years to get them trained up and keep them honest … so we can potentially have them work in our business."
Getting word out
Adam Suri, program director of operations at the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said the state is marketing itself as "the epicenter for cyber security." In January, Gov. Martin O'Malley hosted a "Cyber Maryland" summit, where corporate executives and state and federal officials gathered to promote the cyber security industry in the state.
"Silicon Valley has done a very good job of marketing itself," Suri said. "This is where the cutting edge for cyber technology is being developed."
Brian Schneider is just the kind of person that politicians and corporate leaders hope to continue to attract to Maryland with the lure of technology and cyber security jobs.
Schneider, 24, works at Northrop Grumman in Linthicum and lives in Canton. After graduating from college in South Carolina with a computer science degree last winter, he chose this region over others because it offered better career options for himself and his fiancee.
His computer skills, which are coveted nationwide, could take him just about anywhere — high-tech workers also are in demand in Silicon Valley, Northern Virginia, New York and Boston. But so far, he's happy with Baltimore.
"Since I've gotten here, we've decided we want to stay here," said Schneider, who works on network systems. "We enjoy Baltimore. We enjoy being in the city. It wasn't something we originally expected."