Texas Tech receives grant to focus on strengthening cybersecurity workforce

Texas Tech University was among 18 recipients from across 15 states to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The funds are targeted to enhance and strengthen the nation’s cybersecurity workforce.

According to a news release, the initiative will have significant regional impact as Texas Tech brings the West Texas Cyber Workforce Development Consortium online. The project will involve public-private partnerships and focus on a handful of objectives as it is built out over the next two years as a result of the $199,349 grant.

“This program will train K-12s, undergraduates, graduates and professionals in the West Texas region on real-world cyber-physical security applications for critical infrastructure facilities,” Manohar Chamana, assistant professor and graduate adviser in the renewable energy program, part of the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech, said in the release. “That includes power systems, renewable energy, water and wastewater, oil and gas.”

Chamana said the idea is to create an interdisciplinary training alliance throughout West Texas that connects academic institutions and industries involved in cyber and physical networked systems. Texas Tech will establish a consortium for training and placement activities that includes NextEra energy company, Farmers Electric Co-Op, South Plains Electric Co-Op, West Texas A&M University and UT-Permian Basin.

According to statistics, there were approximately 450,000 cybersecurity job openings in the U.S. between January 2023 and January 2024 with only 82 workers available per every 100 job openings during that time frame.

“Our economic and national security depend on a highly skilled workforce capable of defending against ever-increasing cyber threats,” Laurie E. Locasio, commerce department undersecretary and NIST director, said in a news release announcing the awards. “By investing in our cybersecurity workforce, we are not just filling a critical gap. We are creating a future where Americans have access to the training they need to secure high-quality, good-paying jobs.”

The Texas Tech program is expected to address several goals, including personal cybersecurity standards validation, research and development, field testing/demonstration of cybersecurity/cyber-physical security tools and workforce development in cybersecurity/cyber-physical security.

“Many critical infrastructure industries need to ensure cyber-physical security, which includes information technology (IT) and operation technology (OT) security,” Chamana said. “Texas Tech has the distinction of being the largest comprehensive higher education institution in the western two-thirds of Texas. We will seek to establish partnerships with academia, utilities, national labs and private companies involved in critical infrastructure cybersecurity.”

Chamana said Texas Tech already has trained more than 200 individuals from local industries and educational institutions as part of a program overseen by the Texas Workforce Commission since 2020.

“We have established relationships with several local rural cooperatives, wind farm operators and educational institutions,” he said. “Those relationships will be leveraged to conduct workshops for workforce development and address the current cybersecurity skills gap required for local industries.”