Bridging the Digital Divide: How Ada’s Community Can Access Free Cybersecurity and Networking Courses

By: Sunnie Dawn Baker

Digital jobs are not just the careers of the future—they are the careers of the present. However, people can find it difficult to know where to start. Where does one begin this path? How can they find the appropriate trainings and certifications? And how can they overcome the barriers and obstacles that might block their way? Now, though, a multi-organizational partnership between the Ada Jobs Foundation (AJF), the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI), Cisco Networking Academy, and Pontotoc Technology Center (PTC) offers people in our community a unique opportunity to begin their journey towards a digital career and a brighter future.

For a limited time, individuals in our community can take two different online course, as well as the accompanying certification tests, for free through the Cisco Networking Academy. Justin Cooks, the Tech Jobs Program Manager for CORI says, “Cisco is a great opportunity for individuals within your community to get highly sought after skills and education in the top jobs that employers are eagerly looking to hire. Cisco is a leader in the field of technology and has a top-level educational platform, which is why we partnered with them.” These self-paced courses allow people to learn on their own time. This opportunity especially benefits those who want a career change but still have to work. This program provides critical training and opportunities that can help people pursue their goals of working in information technology. The program currently offers Cybersecurity Essentials and Networking Essentials courses free of charge. These high-demand fields benefit from this training, which requires no prerequisites, and can prepare individuals for these careers while also providing certification to prove their readiness to employers.

Cybersecurity Essentials is a 70-hour course which prepares people to take the entry-level Cisco Certified Support Technician Cybersecurity certification. This course helps students achieve a basic understanding of how cybersecurity operates, enabling them to protect themselves and organizations. The program begins by teaching the basics of cybersecurity and its potential impact, guiding students to demonstrate vital skills like threat intelligence, networking security, and risk management by the end. After completing the course, students can take the exam, which normally costs $405. However, if students complete the classes by September 30th, they receive a voucher to take the exam for free.

The other class, Networking Essentials, offers a 65-hour course that prepares individuals to take the entry-level Cisco Certified Support Technician Network certification. This course explores how networks operate, including the devices, media, and protocols that enable network communication. It teaches the students how to perform basic troubleshooting, using the most effective methods and help desk best practices. Just like with the Cybersecurity Essentials course, if students complete it by September 30th, they will receive a voucher to take the certification exam for free, which normally costs $385.

These two courses give people the opportunity to learn new skills, but also pursue new career paths that pay well and are in high demand. In 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 32% growth in cybersecurity jobs from 2022 to 2032. However, according to CyberSeek, employers posted more than 572,000 cybersecurity jobs between September 2022 and August 2023, indicating a labor shortage. While networking-related careers are not growing as rapidly as cybersecurity, many businesses and organizations still need individuals with these essential skills. Technology is an integral part of our businesses and offices, and it can be essential to have an individual who can manage these networks to make sure that everything runs smoothly and is updated as technology changes.

The Ada Jobs Foundation’s strong partnerships make these opportunities possible. As one of 38 communities in the Rural Innovation Network, the Center on Rural Innovation provides possibilities to help our community grow and thrive. The Digital Skilling Initiative with CORI and Ascendium is one of these possibilities, and this training with Cisco is yet another. However, in addition to these partnerships, AJF is fortunate to be working with PTC to bring this to the community while removing as many barriers to success as possible. Darla Schell, Business and Industry Coordinator with PTC, has offered to help any individuals who want to take advantage of this opportunity but lack the necessary equipment to complete these trainings. PTC provides computer labs and Wi-Fi, free of charge, for people who need them. Contact Schell at or by phone at (580) 310-2267 to access these amenities.

Daniel Castaneda, Economic Development Specialist for AJF, views these trainings as a wonderful opportunity for individuals and our entire community. He says, “The Cisco project is a valuable opportunity for our community, helping people build skills to enter a growing field. One of our goals as an organization is to create more pathways to higher-paying jobs. This project provides an entry into a sector where Ada can lead in the region. To succeed, we need more voices to promote this opportunity. We are reducing barriers to certification, and our partnership with PTC to use their facilities is a great advantage for participants.” Working together with our partners allows AJF to help those in our community achieve their goals of good, high-wage careers, that will make their lives better while also benefitting the community as a whole.

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