McLeod Information Systems, LLC, developed its cybersecurity apprenticeship program with two clear goals in mind: to grow a stronger information technology (IT) work base in Charleston, South Carolina, and to provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.
As a service-disabled, veteran owned and operated IT security business, McLeod Information Systems (MIS) looked for ways to give back to the local community soon after its founding in North Charleston in 2016. MIS saw an opportunity to accomplish this goal with the 2019 announcement that Trident Technical College (TTC) would establish a new associate degree in cybersecurity.
MIS agreed to partner with TTC and Apprenticeship Carolina™ to develop a registered cybersecurity youth apprenticeship, becoming the first cybersecurity company in North Charleston to have apprentices enrolled at the college. EDGE spoke with Debbie McLeod, president and co-founder of MIS, about apprenticeship and the potential of this dynamic partnership.
EDGE: Could you give some background on McLeod Information Systems (MIS)?
Debbie McLeod: MIS is a small cybersecurity business that supports the IT security needs of federal organizations and commercial industries. We currently have 11 employees and two cybersecurity support technician apprentices, and we hope to have more in the future.
EDGE: What inspired you to consider creating a youth apprenticeship program?
DM: We saw the number of unfilled cybersecurity positions, not just locally but worldwide, and we wanted to make a difference. There are 3 million openings worldwide and not nearly enough graduates to fill them. We knew that fresh, innovative approaches had to be taken to meet those workforce needs.
At the same time, we looked at IT courses offered in local high schools. We saw that schools were not adequately equipping students to step out into the IT market, let alone the cybersecurity career field. So the initial plan grew around the idea that we could start an intern program to help high school students.
After speaking with Charleston County School District (CCSD) and Apprenticeship Carolina, we realized we could do both. We could grow a stronger IT work base and provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.
We proceeded to hire students as interns from CCSD, then gave them the opportunity to switch over if they decided they wanted to go into the apprenticeship program. Two of the four did just that. We knew we had found a way to start making a difference.
EDGE: How helpful have Apprenticeship Carolina and the technical college been during the establishment of your youth apprenticeship program?
DM: Apprenticeship Carolina and Trident Tech have been extremely helpful in setting up the program. They did most of the legwork and have always been supportive, courteous and quick to reply to all our questions. They made setting up an apprenticeship look easy, although I am sure it was a lot of work on their part.
EDGE: What are some of the top positive outcomes of having an apprenticeship program?
DM: It is a very rewarding program on so many levels. For one, it allows us as a company to prepare and grow our future industry leaders. Everyone in the company sees the value of the program. For the company employees that work directly with the apprentices, it is the brighter part of the workday when they get to instruct these impressionable minds.
As for the apprentices, they say it allows them to learn and progress in a career field they are generally not exposed to.
EDGE: Is there anything specific that you would like to highlight about your apprenticeship program?
DM: We knew we wanted to extend the apprenticeship offer to students who came from high school(s) that were less privileged in the offering of IT courses. Our apprentices came in with very little exposure to IT classes of any sort, so this gives them an opportunity that they may never have had otherwise.
EDGE: What do you like most about the youth apprenticeship program?
DM: The best part of the apprenticeship program is working with the youth. We like the fact that it gives our young adults an opportunity to build work experience while being educated. It puts them ahead of others in this career field by having actual hands-on knowledge, and it helps them get their feet in the door. It also allows us, as a company, to participate in building a stronger work base within the community.
EDGE: If you had the opportunity to recommend an apprenticeship program to another company, what would you say?
DM: Do it! I would definitely recommend apprenticeships to other companies. It doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part to get the program started, and it allows you to mentor youth in becoming future industry leaders. It gives the apprentices a different avenue to pursue a career outside of a typical 4-year degree program. An apprenticeship program gives valuable education and work experience in half the time and is far less expensive.
EDGE: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
DM: Youth apprenticeship is a very rewarding program on every level. We hope to keep it as part of our company’s vision for years to come. Although this journey started out as a way for us to broaden the horizons of youth that have not had as much exposure to IT as others, it became a better opportunity than imagined. It became rewarding to us at McLeod Information Systems, not just to the apprentices. By helping to meet a need that we saw in the community, we became blessed beyond measure.
McLeod Information Systems, LLC is a comprehensive cybersecurity services company founded in 2016. Headquartered in North Charleston, South Carolina, its staff has over 25 years of experience servicing and supporting federal organizations including the Defense Information Systems Agency, Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and commercial industries that include real estate (agents and brokers), CPA firms and law offices.