A $2.35m government grant will see Victoria’s La Trobe University, along with a consortium of private-sector organisations, deliver cyber security education to more than 80,000 high-school students and develop cyber security ‘micro-credentials’ to retrain people wanting to move into cyber careers.

The grant – the largest of eight successful applicants for funding under the newly-announced second round of the Commonwealth government’s Cyber Security Skills Partnership Innovation Fund (CSSPIF) – will see the university join forces with Cisco, Quantum Victoria, Wiley, Practera, GHD, War on Wasted Talent, and Optus.

Partnerships will create industry placements and work experience programs that will, vice-chancellor Professor John Dewar said in announcing the program, help La Trobe “continue to help build the knowledge, awareness and the workforce that will keep Australia one step ahead of the next cyber-attack.”

By tapping the industry partners’ expertise and connections, the new program will deliver around four major goals, including: the delivery of cyber security education for high school students; and developing micro-credentials to upskill and reskill reskilling career changers, job seekers, existing cyber security professionals, and employers.

The consortium members will also provide hands-on experience through work-based learning, and develop cyber security capabilities in “exposed industries” such as SMEs, fintech and critical infrastructure providers.

Reaching out across the skills gap

The initiative is the latest in a host of industry initiatives designed to tap new demographics and plug the yawning skills gap that has kept Australian businesses struggling to acquire the ICT and cyber security skills they need – particularly in a fast-moving climate where the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many companies to dramatically accelerate their digital-transformation initiatives.

Securing that transformed infrastructure – most of which now exists in cloud platforms that require a different approach to security – requires a broad and deep skillset that the new partnership is aiming to deliver by drawing on consortium members’ respective expertise.

“It is fundamental to the evolving role of a modern university that researchers and teachers work closely with industry to address shared challenges,” Prof Dewar said late 2019 as La Trobe unveiled a strategic partnership with Cisco.

That arrangement created a La Trobe-based Cisco Co-innovation Centre and kicked off initiatives including access to the Digital Schools Network, and the integration of the Cisco Networking Academy module of IoT, cyber security and entrepreneurship into a range of La Trobe courses.

The newer Cisco-La Trobe Centre for AI and IoT at La Trobe University is applying AI and IoT innovation to research in sectors including smart health and agriculture.

Another, separate partnership with NAB saw the university drawing on the bank’s extensive cyber security skills for a range of advisory and curriculum initiatives.

By tapping the extensive resources available across its new partner network, La Trobe will develop new ways to improve engagement between industry and its students and staff.

“This exciting initiative is a great example of how the university can work effectively with a group of leading industry organisations,” pro vice-chancellor for industry engagement Dr Megan Fisher said as the latest funding was announced, “by pooling our resources, skills and expertise to address workforce needs.”

Other recipients of funding under the CSSPIF’s second round include $1.81m for Grok Academy Limited’s Cyber STEPs program; $1.49m for TasTAFE’s Cyber Innovation Training Hub; and $1.1m for RightCrowd Software’s Gold Coast Cyber Studio.

CSSPIF will also provide $650,000 for The Treasury’s NSW Workforce and Skills Development Program; $320,000 for the AustCyber-Microsoft Cyber Security Traineeship Program; $260,000 for CSIRO’s Innovate to Grow – Cyber Security (I2G-Cyber) program; and $258,000 for Central Regional TAFE’s Regional Western Australia Cyber Security Skills Expansion Project.