This top tech company offers free cybersecurity courses—and will help you land your first job in the industry

BY Sydney LakeMarch 24, 2023, 1:06 PM
People walk in front of the Cisco booth during the Mobile World Congress 2023 at Fira Barcelona, as seen March 2023 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Cesc Maymo/Getty Images)

Cybersecurity is a growing concern for businesses as the threat of cyberattacks increases and the talent gap in the industry continues to grow. In fact, just 15% of companies feel prepared to defend against cybersecurity threats, according to a new study by Fortune 500 telecom tech company Cisco.

As a result, 86% of respondents to the Cisco survey said they plan to increase their security budgets by at least 10% during the next year. This could mean there will be even more opportunities in the cybersecurity industry on top of the 700,000 unfilled jobs in the U.S.

To help train future cybersecurity workers, Cisco has a Networking Academy, which is an online platform that offers free courses focused on in-demand skill sets including cybersecurity, networking, and programming. Cisco’s Networking Academy has seen 17.5 million learners go through its programs, and learners get directly connected to job opportunities in relevant fields. In the 25 years since the program’s inception, 95% of students obtained a job or “new educational opportunity” after completing the program, according to Cisco.

“One of the key ingredients to our success is that we continue to reinvent ourselves and we continue to ensure that our offerings are relevant—that we’re providing courses that are aligned to the most in-demand skills that people need in order to obtain entry-level job opportunities,” Laura Quintana, vice president and general manager of the Cisco Networking Academy, tells Fortune.

How the Cisco Networking Academy works

The main mission of the Cisco Networking Academy is to help learners create a bridge to career possibilities, Quintana explains. Students can come in at any level without any prerequisites and take courses they find interesting and where they may want to pursue a new career. 

Learners can take courses of varying levels—from beginner to advanced—in topics like networking, operating systems, information technology, Internet of Things, infrastructure automation, and cybersecurity. “For us, it’s very important to ensure that we can meet learners where they’re at and be inclusive and equitable in terms of the offerings that we provide,” Quintana says.

For example, Introduction to Cybersecurity is a beginner-level class that is instructor-led, but self-paced. It takes 15 hours to complete, and students earn a badge upon completion. This could then lead a learner to pursue a cybersecurity pathway, which includes several courses and videos focused on cybersecurity, networking, and threat management that takes 160 hours to complete. This is the pathway for people to complete the Cisco Certified Support Technician (CCST) Cybersecurity certification, which is recognized by employers, Quintana says.

“With there being such high demand [for cybersecurity jobs], the track record that we have of impact in this space of skills-to-jobs, we’re able to bring the quality of our curriculum, the practice-based learning, and our ecosystem of employers to bear, so that we can help individuals be successful in this space,” she adds.

Earning the certification upon completion of the cybersecurity pathway can help students land entry-level jobs such as a cybersecurity technician, security operations center analyst, and information security analyst, Quintana says. The information security analyst is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the U.S., and has a median base pay of $102,600, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Having that certification enables a learner to demonstrate that they’ve acquired the skills necessary for these jobs,” Quintana says.

While Cisco does have job opportunities for graduates of its Networking Academy, the Cisco platform hosts 3.2 million learners, on average, per year. Cisco has established more than 1,000 partnerships with employers to help students find job opportunities after they complete their free courses—including major partnerships with staffing agencies Experis and Manpower.

“We have an unmatched ecosystem of government, academic institutions, nonprofits, and employers that we work with and partner with to ensure that we can provide that full journey from skills to jobs,” Quintana says.

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.