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Experts: As Cyber Booms, So Too Must Preparation

Training systems like Georgia’s Cyber Range are crucial, enabling students to practice their tech skills with real-world scenarios such as machine learning for a manufacturer or information security on a mobile app.

(TNS) — In the continually expanding realm of cybersecurity, the process of innovation is straightforward, at least the way Georgia Cyber Center's David Ivey puts it: "The message from the government is, 'I need this industry thing; I need this thing to solve this problem, whatever it is.'" And industry, aided by academia, responds.

Ivey is director of Georgia Cyber Center's Cyber Range.

The Cyber Range is exactly what it sounds like — a range, like a gun range, where students practice their tech skills with real-world scenarios. It's a cloud computing environment that serves as incubator for the real stuff.

The real stuff being anything from machine learning for a manufacturer to information security on a mobile phone app.

And it's a crucial component to the education of the future workforce when cyber is booming but preparation for it is sometimes lacking.

STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — are receiving greater emphasis in K-12 schools, but both Ivey and the Cyber Center's director of Elite Training, Joseph Holloway, said there's still a gap in what is being taught and what could be taught, pre-college or pre-internship.

"What you have in the K-12 system is, you get a science teacher that's told 'you're going to teach cyber.' You get a math teacher, 'you're going to teach cyber,'" said Ivey. "It's not their specialty, it's not their skill, but they're told to teach it anyway."

Some of the "hard truth," said Holloway, is that there's no correlation between the skill that's needed to teach it, and the financial compensation to do so.

Starting teachers in the CSRA can expect to earn $35,000 a year, which is about half what an entry level cyber job might pay.

"It's just really hard for a teacher to have that type of experience or have training in cyber security and know what the industry pays for that and then want to go in and teach that in a classroom and take that type of pay scale," said Holloway.

And mid-career, things don't look up by much. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that median pay for an information security analyst is a little more than $100,000 versus the $62,000 median pay of a public high school teacher.

But information security is an industry the Bureau has marked for growing much faster than average over the next 10 years.

Holloway, formerly an SCADA technician and, later, a tech guru both for Richmond County Board of Education and Fox Creek High School in North Augusta, has "seen some of the pain points from the industry side [and from] the K-12 side" where cyber is concerned and relieving these pain points is part of what Georgia Cyber Center tries to do.

The more than 330,000 square feet within its two buildings give room to what Holloway and Ivey called an "ecosystem" for cyber technology. Academic programs connect people to the start-ups and established cyber companies that are liable to provide the resources to future industry and government needs.

The Cyber Center partners with both Augusta Tech and Augusta University; it now is trying to expand internships to students enrolled at any Georgia college or university. Already, 16 industry partners have space at the Center.

But the Center, as massive as it is — it's the single largest investment by any state government in a cyber facility — is only the start. Expected to be complete by end of 2025 is a similar cyber "ecosystem" in Aiken County.

The South Carolina National Guard is building a $30 million Dreamport on the USC Aiken campus; and U.S. Department of Energy, through Savannah River National Lab, is constructing a $50 million Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative on the campus.

As yet unrealized, but with the funding available for it, is some type of cyber infrastructure in North Augusta that would complement that at Fort Gordon and the Georgia Cyber Center. The city received through the state of South Carolina's plutonium settlement $15 million for this infrastructure.

But the investments can't be limited to those by government or big industry, said a top USC Aiken official.

Dr. Daren Timmons, provost and executive vice chancellor of academic affairs at USC Aiken, said that other companies need to step it up, too, with training and internships to help prepare the future workforce they're already seeking.

"It's not just, 'Hey, we need more workforce!' It's 'What are you going to do to invest in that,'" Timmons told North Augusta Chamber of Commerce members March 9. Timmons said there's an impatience at many companies for new workers to be ready on day one but that the reality is, that worker might need some on-the-job training to be a full asset.

Cyber isn't just about national defense, nor is it a field that's out there on its own, said Holloway and Ivey. Rather, it's a component to all the other Information Technology fields: software development and systems architecture, but also the next era in forensics and manufacturing.

"Somebody creates an app for a mobile device, the operational technology for your heart monitor, whatever the case may be, all of it's got a relation to cyber security," said Ivey. "We have to figure out how to defend this stuff as well."

© 2023 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.