Faced with concerns that universities aren’t creating job-ready cyber security graduates, consulting giant Deloitte has partnered with two Australian universities to create a hybrid program combining university studies with paid, on-the-job employment.

The new Cyber Academy program unites Deloitte with the University of Wollongong (UoW), Swinburne University of Technology, and TAFE NSW for a blended three-year program that is expected to ‘fast-track’ 1,200 cyber security careers.

Participants will undertake three years of “predominantly digital” learning while earning an annual salary of $40,000 for working 3 days per week at Deloitte, a NSW Government department, or an industry partner.

The program is open to NSW or Victorian residents 17 years old or older, who are completing studies this year – or are no longer at school. They must hold HSC or equivalent, vocational qualifications, or have completed one year of a university course.

Students will move through vocational and higher-education components as they complete the program, which UoW deputy vice-chancellor (education) Professor Theo Farrell said, “will address a critical workforce need and make an important contribution to this vital area of Australian resilience and security.”

Upon completing the program, graduates will earn a Diploma of Information Technology (Cyber Security) from TAFE NSW and a Bachelor of Computer Science (Cyber Security) from UoW.

The Cyber Academy “harnesses world-leading expertise to ensure a pipeline of highly skilled graduates can hit the ground running and provide vital protection for our economy in the cyber sector,” NSW Minister for Skills and Training Alister Heskens said in announcing the program, which is now accepting registrations of interest for commencement in early 2023.

Deloitte has committed to taking 10 per cent of all students completing the program and other placements may also convert into ongoing roles, with Swinburne vice-chancellor Professor Pascale Quester saying it “reflects Swinburne’s commitment to genuine industry-integrated learning and will help our students to be job makers and job takers in the future world of work.”

The fight for job-ready graduates

The Cyber Academy program is targeted at addressing Australia’s ongoing cyber skills gap, identified as a priority in AustCyber’s Cyber Security Sector Competitiveness Plan – which warned that nearly 17,000 more cyber security workers were needed by 2026 to fix a “severe shortage of job-ready cyber security workers”.

And while claimed “job-ready” courses from private institutions like Logitrain, the Institute of Data and the Adelaide Institute of Business & Technology have focused on helping students amass the technical certifications demanded by industry, the involvement of universities in the Cyber Academy program enables students to earn conventional tertiary degrees at the same time – saving them time and speeding their entry into the cyber security workforce.

With one recent business survey finding that half of graduates aren’t learning enough to start work when they graduate – and another finding that just 27 per cent of employers still require degrees – universities are fighting to maintain their relevance as the industry continues to mobilise to close the skills gap.

While some universities have explored increasingly popular microcredentials for targeted academic programs so students can graduate sooner and continue learning throughout their lifetimes, the promise of full degrees and paid employment is intended to make Cyber Academy particularly appealing for students.

That could make it a lifesaver for a university sector that is looking overseas to boost its numbers, even as it struggles to remain relevant to the cyber security conversation after slashing jobs, investing in research, and investing to fight growing foreign interference.

Morrison Government initiatives like the Cyber Security Skills Partnership Innovation Fund and Job-ready Graduates Package were intended to address the skills gap in “areas of national priority”, with the latter creating up to 30,000 new university places and 50,000 new short-course places while its CESAR package was designed to add hundreds of new cyber security workers.

Yet the Cyber Academy’s combination of nationally recognised university qualifications, on-the-job training, and mentorship will, Deloitte Australia risk advisory managing partner Steve Jansz said, forge a new path as a “first-of-its-kind” program.

“The risks of more complex and sophisticated cyber attacks are clear,” he said, “and we need the best and the brightest working in cyber to help protect Australians and Australian businesses.”