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USF/ReliaQuest Partnership Aims to Fill the Talent Gap in the Emerging Cybersecurity Field

By Keith Morelli

ReliaQuest Cybersecurity Labs

TAMPA (October 2, 2018) -- Cybersecurity technology and services provider ReliaQuest is familiar with the University of South Florida, through involvement with student interns, faculty and researchers; and now the company has agreed to a $1 million commitment over five years to pay for a first-of-its kind, cybersecurity-certificated program to draw more students into the emerging field.

Graduates with skills that can translate into immediate jobs with competitive salaries is part of the mission of the Muma College of Business, which is forming the partnership that will provide much-needed talent to bridge the widening cybersecurity talent gap.

According to the Occupational Outlook published by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cybersecurity industry is hungry for qualified job candidates. In 2016, there were 100,000 information security analyst jobs and the demand for analysts is expected to grow by 28 percent over the foreseeable future, which is much faster than the average.

"These analysts," said the bureau's May report, "will be needed to create innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or causing problems for computer networks."

And then, there's the competitive salary. The report said the median pay is $95,000 per year with most jobs requiring a bachelor's degree and some experience in a related field.

USF has recognized the coming need and is all in to fill the talent void.

Already in play on the Tampa campus are a new cybersecurity major offered through the College of Engineering and the cybersecurity concentrations available through the Muma College of Business. The Florida Center for Cybersecurity also is located on the Tampa campus.

"In the face of what the industry refers to as a talent shortage, we believe that cybersecurity is actually suffering from a skills shortage," said Brian Murphy, CEO of ReliaQuest. "There are plenty of people eager to enter the cybersecurity field, but they need the skills to perform effectively in those positions. To overcome this challenge, ReliaQuest has chosen to invest both our expertise and financial resources to solve one of the biggest challenges in the industry which, until now, has gone unsolved.

"To truly invest in the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, it is imperative that we provide students with hands-on experience in addition to the theory perspective they are receiving from higher education," Murphy said. "The primary skills gap is real-world application."

Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem said this is the kind of academic/corporate partnership for which the college is known.

"Our collaboration with ReliaQuest further displays the close relationships we have fostered between our faculty, students and the outside business community," he said. "The result: Our students learn skills in working labs that will help them land lucrative jobs after graduation.

"I cannot stress enough my gratitude to ReliaQuest for being an amazing partner," he said. "ReliaQuest executives don't complain about the lack of talent in the cybersecurity realm, but rather, they are doing something about it. They have become part of the solution. Our partnership is truly unique and transformational.

"Everybody wins in this collaboration; there is no downside," Limayem said. "Forging these relationships, creating this synergy, is so important not only for the success of our students, but for the benefit of our partners. It is a model for others to follow."

Matt Mullarkey, an instructor with the Information Systems and Decision Sciences Department, is spearheading the collaboration.

"USF and the Muma College of Business and the dean and I are absolutely thrilled with this unique partnership between the college and a proactive, forward-thinking local company focusing on cybersecurity," he said. "This is great for us and great for our students who will acquire valuable skills that will translate into jobs after graduation.

"We, here at the Muma College of Business, are focused on student success," he said. That's what we are here for."

To provide the needed skills to compete for these high-paying jobs right out of college, the curriculum of the program will go further than classroom instruction. It also will utilize real-life situations in a secured lab setting to acquaint students – perhaps future ReliaQuest employees – with the technology needed to land jobs in the cybersecurity field. The program's inaugural class will include about 30 students from across the campus and starts on Oct 5. It stretches over four Fridays, four to five hours a day.

Upon successful completion of the lab, students will be eligible for a hiring interview at ReliaQuest.

Just through word of mouth, nearly 70 students signed up for the cybersecurity lab, said Scott Noonan, vice president of development at ReliaQuest. Those students took a tour of the company earlier this month and were told the expectations. The immersive lab experience encompasses a rigor that is not for everyone, Noonan said, and some withdrew.

Subsequent interviews culled the remaining students – all engineering and business majors – into the 30 who were the first to enroll in the program, which is expected to be offered twice a year.

"We're excited to get this off the ground," Noonan said. "Ideally, selected students will be juniors and seniors who are ready to either intern or graduate with a full-time job."

The program, ReliaQuest officials said, is the first of its kind in the nation.

"This offers a hands-on practical application, specific to working within the cybersecurity business," Noonan said. While the focus is on class work, the lab work is what separates this curriculum from all other cybersecurity programs.

Qualifying students must have some experience in information technology, but, that's not what program organizers necessarily targeted.

"The three things we really are looking for," said Murphy, the ReliaQuest CEO, "is attitude, energy and effort. We're not just looking for technical expertise."