Microsoft investing millions in community colleges to strengthen cyber workforce

Microsoft investing millions in community colleges to strengthen cyber workforce

Microsoft on Thursday announced a new campaign to invest millions of dollars and resources in community colleges in an effort to address the massive shortage of American workers to fill cybersecurity positions.

Microsoft President and Vice Chair Brad Smith detailed the campaign in a blog post published Thursday, with the effort aimed at recruiting 250,000 individuals to join the cybersecurity field by 2025 primarily through bolstering support for community colleges. 

“As we look to the future, we need to recognize as a nation that we face a cybersecurity skills crisis in the country,” Smith told reporters at a virtual event to announce the campaign Thursday. “We cannot protect the country unless we fill the open cybersecurity jobs that exist today, and the single best way we can do that is to mobilize the nation’s community colleges.”

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The gap is currently a chasm, with Microsoft concluding that for every two cybersecurity positions filled, one remains empty, and that one out of 20 open jobs currently is a cybersecurity position. 

To address the issue, over the next four years Microsoft will provide scholarships and other financial aid to 25,000 students, provide cybersecurity training for faculty at 150 community colleges through work with the National Cybersecurity Training & Education Center, and publish free cybersecurity curriculum that can be used in community college classes. 

Low income students will be prioritized for scholarships, with Microsoft partnering with the Last Mile Education fund to provide 10,000 low-income students, including military veterans, with cybersecurity funds. 

“We are very excited to share today a multi-million dollar investment from Microsoft that is going to help us provide emergency funding, which we get to students typically in 48 hours to help them solve the problems that might derail their education,” Ruthe Farmer, the founder and CEO of the Last Mile Education Fund, told reporters Thursday. “Our goal here is to help 10,000 students launch into careers and stay the course and get that degree, get that certification, and even more in the future.”

In addition, Microsoft will work with the American Association of Community Colleges to fund and provide technical assistance to 42 community colleges to enhance their cybersecurity programs.

The entire effort is focused in particular on working with community colleges to increase diversity across the cyber workforce, which is currently overwhelmingly white and male. 

“Right now, the cybersecurity workforce does not reflect the diversity of America,” Smith told reporters. “We can work with community colleges and not just grow the workforce, but add the diversity we need.”

While Smith did not comment on the exact amount allocated for this effort, he described it as a “substantial investment” involving “tens of millions of dollars,” and that this was just the beginning of potential investments in cybersecurity efforts at community colleges. 

“This is not the ceiling on what we will do, but one of the things I am really interested in learning along with the others here is how this goes,” Smith said. “We recognize that the country has a lot more than 150 community colleges, that we need to reach more than 25,000 students, but if we can get started with this, and then we can assess what is most effective, it will give us the opportunity to invest even more.”

The new effort comes two months after Microsoft pledged to invest $20 billion over the next five years to integrate cybersecurity into products, along with establishing a $150 million program to provide federal, state and local governments with funds to enhance cybersecurity. The promised investments were announced following a meeting at the White House with other tech groups aimed at addressing cybersecurity threats.

-Updated at 2:15 p.m.