Protecting the Local Manufacturing Sector

February 18, 2021

by Tom Lemoine

University of Michigan wins STEM grant to aid manufacturing cybersecurity.

Increasing cybersecurity skills among small manufacturers in southeastern Michigan is the goal of a new project involving the University of Michigan’s Economic Growth Institute (EGI), in partnership with Nexus at Michigan Engineering and HackerU.

The partners have received  one of seven STEM Talent Challenge Grant awards from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

The STEM Talent Challenge Grant is aimed at tackling different needs related to science, technology, engineering, and math in the workforce. In the fall of 2020, EGI collaborated with Nexus — the U-M College of Engineering’s home for online and professional education — and HackerU, an international cybersecurity training institute, to submit the grant proposal for a new cybersecurity work-and-learn program. The grant is worth about $600,000, which includes local matching contributions from EGI, Nexus, and HackerU. 

The new program — Advanced Manufacturing Cybersecurity Work-and-Learn Program (AMCP) — will focus 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. Officials expect to train hundreds of people who will take on cybersecurity learning projects at 40 companies. The grant builds upon an educational partnership between Nexus and HackerU that delivers a cybersecurity workforce development program under the direction of Mingyan Liu, the Peter and Evelyn Fuss Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), and Carl Landwehr, a lecturer in ECE. This successful program has garnered over 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 southeast Michigan have access to our hands-on, practical workforce development program to achieve that goal.”

There is a significant opportunity to develop the workforce across southeastern Michigan as the new program provides critical experience with manufacturers, Landsiedel said. Project partners will conduct outreach to communities of underserved and underrepresented populations in STEM.

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.

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