Automation and cybersecurity at the Workforce Development Institute

By Steve Mustard, CAP

The 23rd Workforce Development Institute (WDI) took place in January 2016 in New Orleans, La. Organized by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the event brought together community colleges, offices of economic development, workforce boards, labor market entities, and other community organizations to share experiences and identify future opportunities. The four-day event included more than 20 interactive workshops covering such diverse topics as disruptive technologies, integrated energy training, aviation, and transition assistance for military personnel.

One of the most popular workshops at the 2016 WDI was “Industrial Cybersecurity: Threats and Solutions.” The panelists included business leaders from GE Oil & Gas and Intel Security, as well as an assistant dean from Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. As a member of the Automation Federation’s government relations committee and an independent automation systems consultant, I represented the Automation Federation (AF).

Community colleges at the workshop noted that they are looking for the next major demand from industry. Those with existing engineering programs were keen to understand more about how they could apply the automation curriculum. A small number of colleges, including Anne Arundel, had already introduced cybersecurity programs, but these still addressed only information technology (IT) issues. The panelists explained how industrial cybersecurity would impact any college program.

Workshop attendees could also visit the AF’s booth in the exhibit hall. Those who missed the industrial cybersecurity workshop could still find out about the possibilities of delivering an automation curriculum and about the importance of industrial cybersecurity skills.

The appeal of automation and industrial cybersecurity as educational programs for community colleges is quite obvious: Industry is adopting more automation than ever before. With offshore salaries rising, robot prices down, and performance up, robot sales are at an all-time high.

Meanwhile, an aging workforce moves closer to retirement, and with these retirees goes the skills and knowledge industry needs to run operations efficiently and safely. According to a 2015 manufacturing skills gap report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, there will be 3.4 million jobs over the next decade, but only 1.4 million qualified workers.

The skills gap is similarly large in cybersecurity. According to the State of Cybersecurity: Implications for 2015 study by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, more than half of the global cybersecurity professionals reported that fewer than 25 percent of cybersecurity applicants are qualified to perform the skills needed for the job. In the narrower niche of industrial cybersecurity, the problem is even more acute. There is a very small pool of individuals who are competent in cybersecurity practices and tools and who have an in-depth understanding of operational technology (OT). There are currently few formal programs to train the next generation.

The Automation Federation has long regarded community colleges as essential for providing the community-based education and training needed to groom future automation and control professionals and engineers. For many years, it has been working with the AACC, as well as individual community colleges, to help expand students’ access to automation curriculum and degree programs.

In 2012, AF and the AACC established the U.S. Automation Community College Consortium. The member colleges of the consortium use AF’s Automation Competency Model (ACM) as the framework for developing an automation curriculum for two-year degree programs in specific automation arenas and for an educational track to a four-year degree program in automation, engineering, and technology.

AF and the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) of the U.S. Department of Labor launched the ACM in early 2009, and since then the model has been updated twice to reflect changes in the automation profession. In the most recent update in 2014, the focus was on industrial cybersecurity skills.

In 2015, AF also worked with ETA on a professional Cybersecurity Competency Model. The key contribution from AF was to ensure that OT issues were properly addressed. Although the focus of much of the model was on traditional IT security issues, such as data confidentiality, AF made sure OT concerns, such as system availability and the difficulty in securing legacy equipment used in industrial automation and control systems, were covered.

One new development of particular interest to community colleges at the 2016 WDI was ISA’s upcoming Certified Mission Critical Professional (CMCP) certification program. This program will test graduates based on the skills and body of knowledge taught through new mission-critical operations curriculum and degree programs to be established at Cleveland Community College, Wake Technical Community College, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Nash Community College, and Moultrie Technical College. Such curriculum and certification programs will need to be rolled out across the U.S. if we are to meet the demand for a skilled automation workforce.

About the Author

Steve Mustard, CAP, has been in the software development business for more than 25 years, including developing embedded software and hardware for military applications and developing products for industrial automation and control systems. Mustard is a member of the AF’s government relations committee and the ISA99 committee.

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