Microsoft allies with community colleges to help U.S. train 250k new cybersecurity workers by 2025

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Microsoft President Brad Smith. (GeekWire File Photo / Dan DeLong)

Microsoft announced a scholarship program for U.S. community colleges and other initiatives to address what it describes as a national cybersecurity skills crisis.

The company says it will offer free curriculum to all of the nation’s public community colleges, training for faculty at 150 community colleges, and scholarships and other resources for 25,000 students. Altogether, the campaign aims to to train as many as 250,000 new cybersecurity workers in the country by 2025, most of whom will work for businesses other than Microsoft.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and vice chair, cited the growing threat of ransomware and other threats in a virtual news conference announcing the initiative with educational and nonprofit leaders Thursday morning.

“We’ve worked with customers who’ve suffered these attacks, and in such a high percentage of the time, they could have prevented or substantially mitigated the attack and its impact if they had applied cybersecurity best practices,” he said. “So there’s been an ongoing conversation in the cybersecurity community. ‘Why aren’t organizations doing better?’ And I think the answer is actually very straightforward: they don’t have the people they need to fill the jobs they’ve created.”

The company isn’t disclosing the total funding it’s commiting to the program initially. Separately, Microsoft has said it will quadruple its spending on cybersecurity solutions to $20 billion over the next five years, in addition to spending $150 million to improve security for U.S. government agencies.

Microsoft recently hired former Amazon Web Services executive Charlie Bell to lead a consolidated security, compliance identity and management engineering organization inside the company.

Flaws in Microsoft’s widely used software and cloud services also contribute to the nation’s challenge, as evidenced this year by a major Microsoft Azure database vulnerability, and high-profile Exchange Server hack.

According to data cited by Microsoft, there are 464,200 open jobs in the country that require cybersecurity skills, or 6% of all open jobs in the country, with average annual pay of $105,800.

Microsoft is working on the cybersecurity skills initiative with organizations including the American Association of Community Colleges, the Last Mile Education Fund, and Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, Wash., home to the National Cybersecurity Training & Education Center.