As the nation struggles to train enough cybersecurity experts and analysts to fill a shortage that has grown by 50% since 2015, four Polk County colleges are offering courses and degrees to help prepare students for this growing field.

In the next two years, about half a million cybersecurity jobs will remain unfilled, according to the Principles for Growing and Sustaining the Nation’s Cybersecurity Workforce. Around the world, that number could reach 3 million, according to ISC2, an international nonprofit membership association focused on inspiring a safe and secure cyber world.

Cyber threats target everything from critical infrastructure, like electric grids, to private businesses and even elections. The director of National Intelligence has called such threats one of the top national security concerns.

“It is a fact that cyber-attacks come at a cost for America and the world economy. This year alone, cyber-attacks cost the world economy $2.1 trillion — four times the cost in 2015,” said Dr. Kanwal Gagneja, assistant professor in the department of computer science, innovation and technology at Florida Polytechnic University.

That’s why offering classes that train students in cybersecurity is important.

“Cybersecurity is not only a concern for government agencies in the USA, it is a concern for every individual on this planet who has a digital device with internet connectivity and some form of data on it,” Gagneja said. “Day by day the cyber-attacks are growing in number and are becoming more sophisticated and harmful than ever.”

John Hines, chair of Keiser University’s IT Department, said industries need skilled professionals to prevent attacks and react after they occur. “Cybersecurity is of the utmost importance. No one wants to be the victim of a cyber-attack, so businesses must have a security plan in place before attacks occur. Organizations hold vast amounts of data on customers, employees, as well as personal data and information kept by social media organizations and healthcare institutions.”

Cybersecurity Job Market

Cybersecurity jobs are expected to grow 37 percent by 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“This projection is very fast for cybersecurity compared to other professions,” Gagneja said. “We know that computer scientists with programming skills are in high demand, and a security background makes them more sought after.”

According to the Aspen Institute, Duke Energy recently joined 14 other nationwide companies to help develop new ways to train cybersecurity workers to address the shortfall in this area. That could include reducing the requirements to hire such employees from a bachelor’s degree to an Associate’s degree, something the National Security Agency has already done.

“As technology becomes more integrated into every part of our lives, new types of exploits will be developed and there will be a need for experts to help develop countermeasures for these threats,” said Dr. Christian Roberson, chair of the computer science department at Florida Southern College.

A Growing Field of Study

In Polk County, students interested in a career in cybersecurity have a variety of training and education opportunities. Programs are available at both public and private institutions as well as Polk State College.

At Keiser University, information technology and cybersecurity programs are growing steadily, Hines said.

“While we offer smaller class sizes so students get more individualized attention, we still have room for more students.”

Students can earn a bachelor’s degree online in forensics and information security, information technology management and management information systems. The school also offers a bachelor’s degree in network systems & data communications and an associate degree in information technology through a combination of on-campus and online classes.

“All of these programs concentrate on Information Security as a topic in each and every core course,” Hines said.

Polk State College recently developed a firewall services and cybersecurity essentials class to meet the demands of the local workforce, said John Huff, professor of Computer Science. It’s a required class for an associate degree in Network Systems Engineering Technology.  The college is developing a cybersecurity specialization within this degree program and students can currently specialize in infrastructure or security.

The associate degree leads to careers as computer support specialists and network administrators, said Madison Fantozzi, director of communications for the College. Jobs in those areas are expected to increase by 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively, in the next nine years.

Gagneja said her classes at Florida Poly are always full.

“I usually must open a new section for students because we get more enrollment than the class can hold.”

At Florida Southern, “the cybersecurity concentration is new, so we are currently finishing up the first offering,” which was filled to capacity this year, Roberson said.

“Based on the students enrolled in our Computer Science program, cybersecurity is the concentration with the most students.”

Finding Employment

“There are more and more opportunities for certified personnel so finding a job should not be difficult,” Huff said. “Cyberwarfare is a very real concern, and governments are scrambling to investigate this problem from both sides.”

Keiser’s Hines said the average placement for such careers exceeds 90 percent.

Other universities are just beginning to offer cybersecurity degree programs, Gagneja said.

“The number of graduates who are passing is not adequate compared to the number of jobs available in cybersecurity. So, the graduates with just some cybersecurity background get hired very quickly.”

Who Hires Cybersecurity Specialists?

Beyond the military, Hines said, most companies need cybersecurity experts, including Publix, Disney, Microsoft, PricewaterhouseCoopers, JPMorgan, Verizon, Marriott and healthcare organizations like Lakeland Regional Health and Watson Clinic.

Even though the program just started at Florida Southern, Roberson said one graduate has already joined the cybersecurity team at Publix. He’s also talked to FedEx about its need for such employees.

“In the modern workplace, there is no industry that will not require people trained in cybersecurity techniques,” added Polk State’s Huff.

Gagneja said cybersecurity threats are very real in this country.

“America is investing a lot to counter cyberattacks, but not at the same pace as the attacks, which are growing very fast and becoming sophisticated. These threats are persistently changing depending on the vulnerabilities in the existing software, and many other factors. It seems that America is not prepared for constantly changing threats.”

For additional information about this topic or how to become a partner with the Central Florida Development Council, please contact Lindsay Zimmerman at lindsay@cfdc.org.