COLLABORATION

Target turns to higher education to secure Minnesota’s digital future

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Target wants to help higher education fill the state & country's cybersecurity talent shortages.

US retail giant Target is teaming up with the University of Minnesota in a three-year collaboration to educate the next generation of cybersecurity experts for the state and beyond.

The arrangement includes a sizeable US$250,000 donation from Target, the firm’s first major gift to the institution, to fund education programmes at the College of Science and Engineering.

The gift will help the university develop course curriculum, as well as offer hands-on information security experiences, student scholarships, fellowships and grants, in addition to opportunities for students to connect with cybersecurity experts.

“We’re grateful to Target for supporting the University in our efforts to build the pipeline of high-tech workers in this state and around the world,” said Mostafa Kaveh, Dean of the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, in a release.

“When industry and academia work together to solve problems, great things can happen. We look forward to collaborating with Target for many years.” 

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A cornerstone of the collaboration is a year-long, in-depth capstone project in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering through which the university and Target will provide students with hands-on technical experience prior to graduation.

Led by an instructor, students will get to work with Target leadership to develop innovative solutions to real-world industry problems.

Explaining Target’s reasons for the partnership, Chief Information Security Officer Rich Agostino pointed to the digital skills gap crisis, noting that predictions have said the next 10 years will see at least half of all cybersecurity positions in the US vacant. 

For context, the country’s total employed cybersecurity workforce is just 716,000 while the shortfall as of January this year was almost 314,000 professionals. Come 2022, the shortage is expected to be more than 1.8 million.

More than just unfilled roles, the talent gap will come at great cost to businesses as the jobs landscape fails to keep pace with rising cybercrime incidents. A recent survey of IT decision-makers in eight countries by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that 71 percent believed the gap would lead to direct and measurable damage to their organisations.

But rather than wait for higher education to churn out skilled graduates, many organisations have recognised the value of partnering with these institutions.

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“As one of the largest employers in the Twin Cities, we know we have a responsibility to help build the cybersecurity talent pipeline,” Agostino said.

“Our team has been working closely with the University of Minnesota on a unique collaboration that not only helps educate the next generation of cybersecurity leaders, but also provides training and leadership opportunities to Target’s team.”

According to University of Minnesota, Target’s generous donation also includes direct funding to students via scholarships. The firm has committed to awarding seven student scholarships at US$5,000 each. This started with the Fall 2019 semester.

“I’m honored to be one of the first Target scholarship recipients,” said Melanie Humphrey, a University of Minnesota junior majoring in computer science who will be interning at Target next summer. 

“The Target scholarship process confirmed my decision to pursue a career in cybersecurity. I was excited to learn that I could have an impact on everything from protecting our private data to national security.”

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On top of the capstone project and the scholarships, Target will also be providing funding for events such as conferences, workshops and hackathons to computer science-related student groups.

The collaboration will kicked off on October 8 during Target’s Cyber Security Day at the University of Minnesota.