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FARMINGTON — San Juan College's Center for Workforce Development is gearing up to present its second annual cyber conference in April.

Conference organizers sat down earlier this week to discuss the upcoming information technology-oriented conference, as well as fast-track academies offered through the center that are designed to help students obtain high-paying jobs in a short amount of time.

Kathi Hail, a workforce development specialist with the Center for Workforce Development, said she and her colleagues wanted to figure out the quickest way to help those who have been laid off as a result of the oil and gas industry slump. The result of their brainstorming was the creation of several information technology (IT) academies and certificate programs, including one focusing on cybersecurity.

"Our goal is to create a diverse economy, so we focused on top certifications that people can obtain the fastest and that allow them to obtain the highest-paying jobs," Hall said.

Lorenzo Reyes, the Center for Workforce Development director, said the team zeroed in on cybersecurity, as it is a career that has sustainability in changing economic climates.

In order to kick start the cybersecurity academy and raise interest in that expanding field, the center hosted a cyber conference, or cybercon, in June 2016 and is preparing for another such event that will take place April 27-28.

"The conference will offer three tracks — one for middle and high school students, one for college students and faculty and another for those in the private sector," Reyes said.

Conference organizers are recruiting speakers and presenters, and have already secured several scientists from Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories to give presentations on issues such as nanotechnology. Also currently being sought for the conference are sponsors, as cybercon organizers intend to offer the conference at no charge for those who attend.

"We're trying to make it a well-rounded conference for people of all ages," said Hail, adding that those interested in attending can begin registering in three weeks.

Reyes said the IT industry has been growing over the last 10 to 12 years because of national and international concerns related to cybersecurity. He pointed out that there are more than 200 IT jobs listed on the usajobs.gov job website, which is the U.S. government's main job search site. The average IT job, he added, pays between $80,000 and $100,000, with 49 percent of those in the IT field earning more than $100,000.

"Interest has definitely increased — there's more identify theft and information stealing," he said. "People are more interested in learning how to protect our information."

San Juan College offers an associate of applied science degree in IT that requires students to take many credit-hours of classes. The center's academy, however, involves eight or nine months of intense, fast-paced training, and awards accredited certifications in various IT fields. Reyes said efforts are underway to integrate the degree and certificate programs.

"When people complete our academy, they are certified in network or cybersecurity and can go to work anywhere," said Alicia Corbell, business counselor for the Center for Workforce Development. "Many will be offered jobs with companies like IBM, and the work is location neutral. For example, we have a group here working for someone in Singapore (via the Internet). People can make connections in a metropolitan city, then live and work wherever they want."

Hail said many who are enrolling in the center's academies are older students looking to pursue a second career.

"So many people went right out of high school and into the oilfield, and although they earned a good wage, they got beat up (by that type of physical work)," she said. "We're telling them that now they can use their minds and still get a job with comparable pay."

Reyes said students enrolling in the academies and certificate programs are warned that they will be challenged, but they are assured that they can succeed.

"We know it's an investment, but it's actually an investment in the future of our community," he said.

For information on Center for Workforce Development programs or on the upcoming cybercon, call 505-566-3804, or visit sanjuancollege.edu/WorkforceDevelopment.

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.

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