In March, the Arkansas Office of Skills Development (OSD) awarded Forge Institute $1.67 million over three years to use as scholarships for tuition for Arkansans who meet the training requirements.
This funding was part of $8 million in grants announced by Governor Asa Hutchinson, directed to economic and workforce development partnerships to create training opportunities for in-demand skills and certifications.
Of course, we’re pleased to be included in this workforce initiative, which also features organizations like The Innovation Hub at Winrock International, UA Little Rock and several other institutions of higher learning. However, I’m most encouraged by what this signals to the economic influencers in Arkansas — that the Natural State is serious about elevating its position as a rallying point for the nation’s digital workforce, including cybersecurity.
The OSD grants provide significant tuition assistance to qualified applicants, covering up to 90 percent of tuition for courses in IT/cyber fundamentals and the Cyber Training Bootcamp, a 14-week program that delivers the required baseline training individuals need to become cybersecurity analysts, the preferred entry-level role in cybersecurity teams.
Making this training more accessible to Arkansans is an important salvo in impacting our state’s cybersecurity and infosec industries. Our state is already digitally inclined, with most of our key business sectors heavily reliant on data-driven technologies. Creating a workforce especially suited to infosec and cybersecurity allows us to fill an expanding niche in the U.S. economy, revenue from which is projected to reach $146.30 billion in 2022.
An investment of $1.67 million is relatively small in comparison, but the value is undeniable. Already, Forge Institute courses are nearing capacity, with Arkansans taking advantage of the tuition assistance. The courses are hands-on-keys and instructor-led, and are available both in-person and online. Those who earn certification will have open doors to higher-paying jobs and rewarding careers. These men and women will represent the defensive front of our innovation economy.
More investment is needed, both from private and public sectors. Arkansas has routinely surprised the nation with its entrepreneurial and technological spirit. We’d be wise to take this opportunity to surprise again.
Lee Watson is the founder and CEO of Forge Institute in Little Rock.