Cybersecurity workforce development is key to protecting the advanced energy industry

Did you know that one program in the Tennessee Board of Regents system continually ranks among the top cybersecurity programs in the country? The Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) at Shelbyville’s Information Technology and Infrastructure Management (ITIM) program is training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals – a key step in protecting the advanced energy industry for years to come.

Originally launched as the Computer Information Technology Program in 1999, the ITIM program has evolved and grown in response to changing public and private sector needs, winning many awards and recognitions in the cybersecurity space. While the focus of the program is cybersecurity, students graduate as well-rounded information technology (IT) professionals. Additionally, classroom instruction covers a wide range of industries, including energy, healthcare, military and more, making students ideal candidates in a diverse job market.

“Workforce development is making a great impact in the growth of our economy,” said ITIM Master Instructor Steve Mallard, who has been with the program for over two decades.

According to the latest figures, the ITIM program has a 97 to 98% retention rate, while 94 to 95% of students are placed in their desired field after graduation. Once enrolled, students can pursue full-or-part-time study for three certifications and three diplomas, totaling up to 2,160 hours. Out of the 2,160 hours, students attend around 740 hours of lectures, while 1,420 hours are spent in hands-on training. There are currently 50 students enrolled in the program with over 1,500 graduates to date from its part-and-full-time programs.

Over a decade ago, Mallard helped facilitate a partnership with the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security to explore better ways to protect the state’s infrastructure. In 2012, the ITIM program launched the Middle Tennessee Cyber Conference with the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security. Held each year at Middle Tennessee State University, the conference brings together stakeholders from higher education, government agencies and industry to discuss the latest information, strategies, best practices and innovative solutions to address current challenges in the cybersecurity field.

“At the end of the event, attendees will rush the table, so I’ll wind up with a stack of business cards because they all want to hire our students,” said Mallard. “It’s the most fantastic feeling ever.”

In 2020, the program moved to a larger, 29,000 square foot building, the Middle Tennessee Education Center, to give students experience in a security operations center. In the facility, students monitor and collect data from sensors installed around the state that identify pings from malicious attackers. Then, they compile this data in a database and use it to not only help the school but provide reports for local businesses to better enhance their own security operations.

“They get that real-world, hands-on experience,” said Mallard. “We’re the first in the nation where students can go in and do a live security operations center as part of their program. They can look at live data that’s not simulated online.”

Dr. Laura Monks, President of TCAT Shelbyville, has enjoyed watching the program grow and thrive during her tenure. She is thankful for the ITIM program instructors who have helped the program get to where it is today and for the industry partnerships around the state that enable students to walk right out of the classroom and into the workforce.

“We’re breaking that stigma,” said Dr. Monks. “These students are getting hands-on experience, networking opportunities and building their portfolio from day one. Steve and his team have done so much to propel the reputation of the program and caliber of students coming from a technical college that we are getting employers that will come and keep fishing from the same pond.”

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