By Dakota Parks for Northwest Florida's Business Climate
As recent as December 2019, Pensacola was under a cybersecurity attack. The hackers crippled the city’s communication networks impacting phones, emails and potentially personal data in major offices like City Hall. A thorough investigation is still on going; however, the attack reiterates the need for a growing cybersecurity industry—one that the University of West Florida is helping expand through its recent partnership with Jikei Group of Colleges based out of Japan. In early December, a memorandum of understanding was signed between UWF and Jikei Group to officiate their program partnership.
Cybersecurity is the study of computer security that protects computer systems from theft or damage to their hardware, software or electronic data. Despite the portrayal of vendetta-hungry “hackers” in movies and popular television, hacking doesn’t require as much effort as it once did. The role of the cybersecurity industry is to combat hackers and online criminals by protecting computers and systems. In a recent press release from UWF, the university estimated, “by 2021, there will be an estimated $6 trillion in cybercrime damages and 3.5 million unfilled jobs, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, a provider of data and analytics for the industry.” Therefore, the partnership with Jikei Group could not come at a more crucial time in the cybersecurity industry.
UWF has had a longstanding relationship with Jikei Group in different educational fields. However, the cybersecurity partnership really kicked off when UWF President Saunders and the Director for the Center for Cybersecurity at UWF, Dr. Eman El-Sheikh both visited Jikei Group in early 2019 to help facilitate the partnership.
Dr. El-Sheikh explained that UWF is a national leader in cybersecurity: “UWF has emerged as a national leader in cybersecurity education and workforce development. A few short years ago, UWF became an NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Defense Education. Since then, the UWF Center for Cybersecurity has been designated as the Cybersecurity CAE Regional Resource Center for the Southeast U.S. by providing leadership to advance cybersecurity education for colleges and universities across the Southeast.”
However, Dr. El-Sheikh also reiterated that the flourishing job-market is leaving positions unfilled: “The cybersecurity job market in Northwest Florida, or the Cyber Coast as we call it, is strong and growing. Recent estimates indicate that there are currently over 2000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in Northwest Florida and our region's cybersecurity job growth rate is outpacing the national average. Employers include defense contractors, such as Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics IT, and private sector employers, such as Navy Federal Credit Union and AppRiver.”
The partnership with Jikei Group will not only help students learn about different cultures through foreign exchange and study abroad opportunities, but it will also help students network and strengthen workforce development. The partnership will include multiple programs, training and general networking opportunities.
“The collaboration will facilitate (1) sharing of expertise to develop best- practice educational programs, (2) collaborative cybersecurity training events for industry partners, (3) training for Jikei cybersecurity faculty and partners and (4) faculty and student exchanges,” said Dr. El-Sheikh.
The partnership is a major stride in regional and global cybersecurity. Through partnerships like UWF and Jikei Group of Colleges, students receive increased training and preparation to fill the outpour of cybersecurity jobs, such as the unfilled positions in the Northwest Florida region. To learn more about the partnership and the cybersecurity programs at UWF, check out uwf.edu/go/cybersecurity.