How Michigan is becoming the model for building a cyber workforce

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As technology continues advancing at a rapid pace, cybersecurity becomes an increasingly critical industry. However, there is an alarming talent shortage of cyber experts skilled in preparing for and navigating threats. According to industry estimates, there will be as many as 3.5 million unfilled positions by 2021.

To better recruit cybersecurity talent, there needs to be effective collaboration between state agencies, the public and private sectors and education. To overcome the challenges brought on by the talent shortage, a robust cybersecurity ecosystem that can support the training and testing of future cyber talent is needed.

Michigan’s extraordinary network of research universities continues to produce an abundance of skilled high-tech professionals. It’s large footprint in high-tech automotive, manufacturing and defense industries provides a deep pool of engineering and information technology talent that is ready to develop into the next generation of cybersecurity specialists. Michigan has taken a proactive approach to create a talent pipeline that will meet the needs of industry as outlined in the State Cybersecurity Initiative.

An Integrated System

After the launch of the Michigan Cybersecurity Initiative, the state created unclassified cyber range hubs where talent could be trained, technology could be tested and deployed, and cyber-safety solutions could be realized. The goal is to help develop talent in Michigan, while serving as a framework that can be implemented in other states across the country. This became the Michigan Cyber Range (MCR), the nation’s largest unclassified, network-accessible cybersecurity training platform.

Run by Merit Network, the Cyber Range provides students and IT professionals with foundational skills through hands-on coursework, exercises and labs, plus more than 40 professional certifications.

But what happens when a cyberthreat targets the government at the local or state level?

The Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps (MiC3) was created for this exact scenario, as a network of trained, civilian technical experts who volunteer to provide rapid response assistance to the state of Michigan in the event of a critical cyber incident. A ready-to-go taskforce is a necessary security component for any company or body of government to have; however, there must first be a steady talent pipeline in place.

Training the Future

 The automotive industry is merging with the tech industry and Michigan is at the center of it all. Automotive cybersecurity is a critically understaffed area of the modern workforce and is an essential part of the connected transportation road map that includes autonomous vehicles and the infrastructure surrounding them, particularly since carmakers are integrating some of the most complex code on the market.

 Michigan’s innovative approach to developing cyber talent includes the SAE CyberAuto and CyberTruck Challenges. These events are unique to Michigan and provide an interactive learning format with a series of instructor-led learning sessions and discussions alternating with hands-on work.

While the concept of enterprise security has been around since the inception of the internet, an industry focus on the security of cyber-physical systems is a new and emerging market that programs like Wayne State University is working to address. WSU is also connected to the Michigan Cyber Range and host’s a hub at their ATEC location.

To help fill the pipeline, it’s important to start recruiting as early as possible. Programs like the MCISSE CyberPatriot Program (K-12) and the Governor’s High School Cyber Challenge teach children the fundamentals of cybersecurity while putting their skills to the test in competitions against teams from around the state and nation. To help improve the industry’s diversity, Governor Gretchen Whitmer introduced Girls go CyberStart to empower girls to become the next generation of cybersecurity leaders.

As the first cyber range in the country to be located in a high school, the Pinckney Cyber Training Institute allows high school and college students and IT professionals to take cybersecurity courses, earn government-recognized certifications and engage in cybersecurity training exercises.

To create a strong workforce in cybersecurity, both the private and public sectors need to look at other sources of talent from all populations. The Western Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) aims to do just that. In downtown Grand Rapids, WMCAT is an education and training facility that works to grow cybersecurity career pathways in underserved and underrepresented populations. The Velocity Hub & Cyber Institute, meanwhile, is looking at ways to leverage skills of returning veterans.

The most recent hub to open at Northern Michigan University focuses on growing cyber talent and industry in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, one of the most remote regions in the country. The institute offers non-degree and industry credentials relevant to emerging careers in cybersecurity. It also augments NMU’s existing cyber defense bachelor’s degree and provides additional career exploration and training opportunities with U.P. K-12 school districts and postsecondary institutions.

This blended learning model aims to meet the current demand for workforce while developing a talent pipeline that will serve industries’ future needs. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is dedicated to making sure that by 2030, at least 60 percent of Michiganders will have a postsecondary degree or certification – and access to these sophisticated cyber hubs will help achieve that goal.

Attracting Business and Talent

In its national 2018 rankings, Business Facilities magazine ranked Detroit in the top ten “tech hubs” for its job growth, highlighting Michigan’s growing success in the sector.

Consider Michigan’s very own unicorn startup, Duo Security, which was born and bred in the state. Even after it was acquired by Cisco, Duo remains committed to staying in Michigan and hiring and training talent right here, thanks to the state’s efforts to strengthen its talent pipeline.

Other companies like GRIMM, VDA Labs and Karamba have set up offices in Michigan to take advantage of the collaborative cyber ecosystem and talent pool, as well as Michigan’s strong automotive and manufacturing industries.

In Michigan, cybersecurity is truly a team sport. As the demand for cybersecurity talent far outweighs the current supply of those with the right skills, it is more important than ever for government, academia and industry to work together to grow and upskill the workforce needed to meet that demand.

Sarah Tennant is a strategic adviser of cyber initiatives for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

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