Cyber security training organisations have just over a month to apply for the first round of funding under the federal government’s $26.5m Cyber Security Skills Partnership Innovation Fund (CSSPIF), which launched today as the Australian government works to build out cyber security skills.

The CSSPIF offers grants of between $250,000 and $3m to fund up to half the cost of specific training projects designed to improve the quality or quantity of cyber security professionals in Australia; increase the participation of women in cyber security; improve collaboration between industry and the education sector; and to support industry and academia to build out Australia’s cyber security skills pipeline.

Interested businesses must apply with at least one other company, with a lead organisation heading the engagement and other partners brought on to support it with specific capabilities or resources.

“Cyber security is essential to our digital economy and needs to be strong in all areas, particularly in SMEs which comprise 98 per cent of all Australian businesses,” Karen Andrews, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology said in launching the grant program with Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

SMEs have, IDC recently noted, been pushed into “survival mode” as they fight to overcome issues around connectivity, support, security, and sourcing.

CSSPIF funding can support a broad range of skills-development activities including developing and delivering specialist cyber security courses, digital training platforms, retraining programs, and professional development.

It may also support apprenticeships, internships, cadetships, work experience and staff exchanges, as well as providing funding for the establishment of cyber labs and training facilities.

“Having more people trained in cyber security will build on the other measures funded as part of our Strategy to keep Australians safe online and protect against cyber attacks from malicious actors, including cyber criminals,” Dutton said.

An estimated $13m will be available in the first round of grants, for which applications will be accepted until 11 March, and a second round of funding is expected later this year.

Executing the Cyber Security Strategy

The CSSPIF was announced last August, when the government invested $1.67b to launch an updated Cyber Security Strategy 2020 supporting cyber security capabilities in a broad range of ways.

It is one part of the $50m Cyber Security National Workforce Growth Program (CSNWGP), an initiative that Morrison took to the 2019 election and formalised in the strategy.

That program was designed to grow cyber security skills at every stage of education and aims to “inspire the next generation of cyber security experts and equip teachers to include cyber security in their classroom lessons,” the strategy notes.

This includes significant effort working with universities to ensure cyber security training meets employers’ needs and “can be more consistently embedded in other disciplines, such as engineering and data science”.

As initially envisioned, the CSNWGP would encompass a range of initiatives including development of work experience placements, public-private exchanges, and cyber security-related scholarships – including 50 per cent reserved for women.

It was also intended to include a national rollout of Questacon’s Engineering is Elementary program to 1,000 primary school teachers around the country, helping them consider STEM and cyber security related issues in their teaching planning.

The Cyber Security Strategy 2020’s skills development programs have been well-received by industry, with a “pleased” Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton noting that Australia “will only be able to significantly lift our game if our workforce in all sectors has the skills to effectively address the challenges that lie ahead.”

“The Strategy requires careful implementation and a major effort will be needed to translate the high-level Action Plan into practical, efficient and effective measures.”