How the U.S. Department of Defense Builds a Robust Cybersecurity Talent Pipeline

How the U.S. Department of Defense Builds a Robust Cybersecurity Talent Pipeline

Cybercrime is on the rise, but finding professionals with the skills to fight it is harder than you think. According to a 2023 International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC2) workforce study, 67% of organizations have a shortage of cybersecurity professionals

Despite its scale, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) also encounters this challenge. Granted, with heightened severity compared to other organizations given its:

  • Status as the largest employer in the world
  • Role in protecting national security 

As a result, traditional workforce solutions aren’t enough to close the gap and equip the DoD with top cybersecurity talent. To overcome this obstacle, the DoD partnered with Correlation One to develop its cybersecurity workforce. 

The Cyber Sentinel Skills Challenge: The DoD's Winning Workforce Development Initiative

Rather than implement traditional workforce development tactics, Correlation One and the DoD launched the Cyber Sentinel Skills Challenge — a recurring series of cybersecurity competitions designed to attract qualified professionals. 

To date, it has produced a pipeline of 5,700+ cybersecurity candidates, including many professionals who may not have been found through conventional recruitment methods. It has proven to be an effective workforce development initiative for the DoD for the following reasons:

  1. Practical Application: The Cyber Sentinel Skills Challenge emulates the complexity and pressure of cybersecurity situations at the DoD, allowing candidates to showcase their skills in an environment similar to the real world. 
  2. High-Quality Talent: Participants are matched with roles at the DoD based on their interests, experience, and technical skills. These participants are then connected with DoD hiring teams. 
  3. Strong Career Trajectory: The Cyber Sentinel Skills Challenge establishes a training-to-jobs pathway for veterans and military families to transition into civilian roles. As a result, military personnel can use existing skills to develop cybersecurity careers at the DoD.

Highlights from May’s Cyber Sentinel

On May 18, Correlation One and the DoD hosted the first Cyber Sentinel. It used a Capture the Flag (CTF) format where participants solved security challenges to uncover concealed pieces of data known as "flags". Participants tackled 20+ simulations based on real scenarios encountered by the DoD. The Cyber Sentinel included tasks to test technical, analytical, and strategic abilities in the following categories:

  • Forensics
  • Malware/Reverse Engineering
  • Networking & Reconnaissance
  • Open-Source Intelligence Gathering (OSINT)
  • Web Security

In addition to learning about DoD career opportunities, top performers received a share of the $15,000 cash prize pool. 


Creating Connections in Cybersecurity: What Participants Have to Say 

Despite the competitive nature of the event, attendees enjoyed tackling unique problems and learning about DoD career opportunities. The competition fostered a sense of camaraderie, mutual respect and allowed participants to network with one another. Here’s what competitors had to say about their experience:

I entered the competition to test my cybersecurity skills and take another step towards my goal of contributing to national security. I had a great experience participating in the CTF competition. It gave me the opportunity to develop my skills and see what I needed to improve on for future challenges. I was also able to network with other professionals who share a passion for cybersecurity and gained valuable knowledge in techniques and resources along the way.
Shawn Reich
May Cyber Sentinel Participant
One of the key highlights for me was actually being able to solve problems and capture flags. It was a significant confidence booster. I was able to touch up on my skills and learn about different technologies and their use cases. To others considering entering future competitions, I strongly advise you to do so. I initially joined out of curiosity but left wanting to pursue a career in cybersecurity. I have the DoD Cyber Sentinel competition to thank for that!
Chibueze Akuchie
May Cyber Sentinel Participant
Participating in the challenge provided invaluable insights into the field of cybersecurity and potential career pathways within the DoD. Throughout the challenge, I approached each task with enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, despite facing difficulties and challenges along the way. The experience served as a catalyst for my interest in pursuing a career in cybersecurity within the DoD.
Deandre Williams
May Cyber Sentinel Participant
I would strongly encourage anyone interested in cybersecurity to participate in these competitions. No matter your experience or skill set, there is something to be gained from competing. If you apply what you know, research what you don’t, and try your best, you’re guaranteed to leave with more knowledge and confidence than when you started.
Caleb Fain
May Cyber Sentinel Participant

Final Insights: The Tie Between National Security and Workforce Development

Building a strong workforce in cybersecurity and other technical fields is difficult for many organizations. However, initiatives like the Cyber Sentinel Skills Challenge are an excellent solution to this problem. By partnering with Correlation One, the DoD successfully: 

  • Attracts and develops professionals with in-demand, technical skills
  • Creates a talent pipeline of qualified candidates
  • Strengthens their employer brand
  • Establishes career pathways for military families and veterans  
  • Achieves key organizational outcomes, in this case, protecting national security

Curious about partnering with Correlation One? Book a meeting to see how Correlation One helps government organizations and Fortune 500 enterprises cultivate top-tier workforces. 


Publish date: June 14, 2024