The University of Michigan’s Economic Growth Institute will use a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to boost cybersecurity know-how among small manufacturers in southeastern Michigan.

The EGI is one of seven awardees nationally to receive the STEM Talent Challenge Grant from the department’s Economic Development Administration aimed at tackling different needs related to science, technology, engineering and math in the workforce. The grant is worth about $600,000, which includes local matching dollars.

Partnering on the project with EGI are Nexus, the College of Engineering’s home for online and professional education, and HackerU, an international cybersecurity training institute.

For its part, the institute is creating a program — the Advanced Manufacturing Cybersecurity Work-and-Learn Program — focused on cybersecurity training that offers online learning and hands-on internships at manufacturers. Officials say it’s crucial to develop internal cybersecurity expertise within manufacturing settings, where it’s often lacking and reliant upon outside expertise to protect its most critical assets.

“Small and medium-sized manufacturers today are struggling to find the resources to develop and ensure their environment is cyber secure,” said Ashlee Breitner, EGI’s associate director. “AMCP will develop the advanced manufacturing workforce of the future by bridging the worlds of cybersecurity and manufacturing to fill critical knowledge and practical applications gaps.”

The two-year program will begin accepting learners this summer. The program expects to train at least 20 people who will take on cybersecurity learning projects at 40 companies.

Outreach for this program will include communities of underserved and underrepresented populations in STEM. There is a significant opportunity to develop the workforce across southeastern Michigan as the new program provides critical experience with manufacturers.

Officials with EGI, which works with companies deemed critical to local and regional economies, say integrating cybersecurity is foundational for developing advanced manufacturing and digital (Industry 4.0) technologies, and it will boost employment, keep jobs and prepare firms for global competition.

The grant builds upon an educational partnership between Nexus and HackerU that delivers a cybersecurity workforce development program that garnered more than 1,100 enrollments since May 2020. 

“It’s more important than ever that manufacturers of any size are prepared to integrate new and innovative technologies with a skilled cybersecurity workforce that can compete on a global scale,” said Diane Landsiedel, Nexus’ executive director. “This new advanced manufacturing cybersecurity program will help to ensure that more manufacturers across southeastern Michigan have access to our hands-on, practical workforce development program to achieve that goal.”

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