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DeSantis announces $20 million in cybersecurity training funds

 xecutive Director of Cyber Florida, Mike McConnell, speaks at a press conference about new state cybersecurity funding.
Florida Governor's Office
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Executive Director of Cyber Florida, Mike McConnell, speaks at a press conference about new state cybersecurity funding.

Saying it will help create opportunities for students in middle school, high school and college, Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced $20 million in funding for cybersecurity training programs.

DeSantis spoke at a press conference at the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida — the home of Cyber Florida: the Florida Center for Cybersecurity.

“This will help train new teachers, purchase training equipment that will be used by students, and other associated endeavors,” he said.

While the number of students studying cybersecurity is rising, the need for even more education remains.

DeSantis cited figures that show enrollment in cybersecurity and information technology programs in Florida colleges and technical colleges has increased by 37% since 2019 to 22,000. In addition, 143,000 middle and high school students in the state are involved in some type of cybersecurity pathway.

“With this funding, we believe we'll be able to double that enrollment to more than 300,000 students, middle school, high school (and) college level by 2024,” he said.

Government figures show that there are currently an estimated 22,000 unfilled cybersecurity-related jobs in Florida, and around 2.7 million such unfilled positions worldwide.

Dan Holland, founder, and president of St Petersburg-based cybersecurity consultant Arête Solutions, said it’s important for the U.S. to encourage these kinds of programs.

“Our nation-state competitors have been prioritizing and emphasizing STEM, computer science, and cybersecurity education for over a generation,” he said.

Holland added that the “complex and difficult” nature of cybersecurity makes many teachers less likely to take this on in the classroom. The funding, he said, would give teachers the incentive to do so.

“Investments like this go a long way to closing that gap, and ensuring that we have an available, diverse, and mature cyber workforce available to us,” he said.

Another concern that accelerates the need for a skilled workforce is the threat of cyber attacks.

Regional attacks, such as the one on Oldsmar’s water plant in Feb. 2021, have demonstrated the dangers of a lack of experienced security experts.

However, national and international threats are also a major concern — particularly in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

“The Russians so far in Ukraine have not attacked our critical infrastructure, but they have that option,” said Mike McConnell, the Executive Director of Cyber Florida. “They have malware deployed and we are at risk, it is at a strategic level.”

The retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral and former director of both the National Security Agency and U.S. National Intelligence added that meeting the demand for workers shows why educational programs are important.

“This program is going to allow us to get more youngsters interested in and focused on cybersecurity,” said McConnell. “It's a great payoff in terms of career.”

Senior Chancellor of the Florida Department of Education, Henry Mack, agreed.

“Going to university is an excellent and awesome goal for those that want it,” he said. “But for students who need a certification or credential to get into the workforce to alleviate our risk and to meet industry demand, we have those credentials now.”

DeSantis added that the workforce in the next 5-10 years will see some of the most growth, as the students reached through these programs likely enter the workforce.

Under the Florida Department of Education program, the state says three separate regions will each get no less than $5 million to help with “teacher certification, faculty hires, equipment purchases, and other costs.”

Cyber Florida and USF will lead one region; Florida International University in Miami will lead another, and a yet-to-be-selected organization will lead the third region.

The money is part of $89 million in workforce education funding DeSantis announced in February.

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