North Dakota Higher Ed, California Private Sector Partner to Fill Cybersecurity Jobs Gaps

Bismarck State College is partnering with California-based Palo Alto Networks to address an estimated 1.8 million cyberstaffing shortfall by 2022.

(TNS) — Bismarck State College is partnering with a California-based company to address a growing gap in computer safety jobs.

By 2022, cybersecurity workforce shortage is expected to reach 1.8 million. With more industries and individuals being connected to the Internet, BSC president Larry Skogen said cybersafety is more important than ever.

BSC is teaming up with Palo Alto Networks, a cybersecurity firm, to expand the college's current cybersecurity program. BSC has largely focused on making an international footprint in the energy industry, but now Skogen said they would like to shift focus.

"This is huge that a company, Palo Alto Networks, would sign its first educational partnership with Bismarck State College to address the issue of cybersecurity in the nation," he said.

In May, Skogen and Shawn Riley, the state chief information officer went to Palo Alto Networks cybersecurity conference in Anaheim, Calif., where the company's CEO Mark Anderson announced the partnership.

BSC will be offering several classes online and on campus using Palo Alto Networks curriculum. The college also will add more networking equipment, create a "cyber range," or online training center, and open a cybersecurity academy that will train K-12 teachers on how to incorporate cybersecurity education into classrooms.

"With this partnership, we'll grow our program, increase our student base and not just reach Bismarck, but the region and hopefully the nation at some point," said Matt Frohlich, an associate professor of computers and office technology at BSC.

Computer security jobs are in high demand and are expected to grow 28 percent through 2026, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as jobs are expected to grow, so is the need for professionals to fight those who wage cyberwar. The software company Symantec said in a 2017 report that ransomware attacks increased by 36 percent in 2016 compared to 2015.

Everyone's susceptible to cybercrime, and getting more students trained in this field is key, according to Skogen.

"It impacts individuals," said Carla Hixson, BSC dean of current and emerging technologies. "Right now, it's not a matter of if your information will be compromised, it's just a matter of when."

Additionally, BSC aims to use the partnership as part of an effort to train more women and other demographics. Hixson said she recently visited a cybersecurity camp in Madison, S.D., for middle school girls from across the nation, and she hopes she can replicate something like that here.

Skogen said the partnership also aligns with Gov. Doug Burgum's K-20 workforce initiative and "cyber moonshot" to bolster cybereducation in K-12 schools and higher education.

Student interest in the cybersecurity program at BSC has been growing. In 2016, BSC changed it's information technology degree to specifically focus on cybersecurity at the request of industry leaders that sit on the college's advisory board. Enrollments after that increased significantly, and the number of students who signed up for the program so far this fall represents a 28 percent increase over the past four years.

BSC also will be offering certifications as a Palo Alto Networks-certified systems engineer, which Frohlich said is "one of the most highly regarded certifications in the the cybersecurity industry."

In addition to certificates, students also can earn an associate of applied science degrees in cybersecurity and, in the fall of 2019, the college will offer a bachelor of applied science degree in cybersecurity and information technology. The only other bachelor degree offered at BSC is in energy management.

Skogen said he's unsure of the exact number of students who will be admitted into the program, because there could be an opportunity to scale it up, as it also will be delivered online.

Other companies have recognized BSC for its cybersecurity program. Last month, the school announced $200,000 in grants for the program from Great River Energy, Midco and National Information Solutions Cooperative.

"We're not going to solve the cybersecurity problem, the 1.8 million (gap), but we're going to take a good effort at it, and the companies that are supporting us believe that we can help," Skogen said.

©2018 The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, N.D.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.