Northwest Florida Could Emerge As Leader for Cybersecurity Jobs

Panama City Beach Northwest Florida has the opportunity to emerge as a national leader in developing talent in the thriving field of cybersecurity, a University of West Florida professor told a crowd at the Gulf Power Economic Symposium earlier this week.

Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, director of the UWF Center for Cybersecurity, took part in an interactive panel at the symposium that focused on developing a strategy for Northwest Florida’s economic future. El-Sheikh spoke on the importance of talent-development for the region’s workforce.

“Cultivating a strong, diverse workforce in our region is not just critical to Northwest Florida’s success, I believe it’s the key,” El-Sheikh said. “It will lead to rewards, such as better jobs, enhanced and increased funding for our region, jobs that come with higher earnings.”

The demand for cybersecurity jobs is expected to rise to 6 million globally within a few years, with a projected worker shortfall of 1.5 million, El-Sheikh said.

“Cybersecurity jobs are growing at a significant rate, three times higher than the (information technology) market, as an example. And these jobs are demanding high wages,” El-Sheikh said.

Cybersecurity expertise is in demand across many job sectors, including professional services, financial services, health care, manufacturing, defense, government and retail,” El-Sheikh said.

“And moreover, cybersecurity employers are demanding highly trained, highly skilled expertise,” she said.

Florida ranks seventh in the U.S. in the growth of cybersecurity jobs. The number of cybersecurity jobs statewide has increased 135 percent over the last few years, El-Sheikh said.

The University of West Florida could play a major role in developing that pipeline of cybersecurity talent.

The University was recently designated by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.

“That’s a designation that’s held by less than 5 percent of higher-education institutions,” El-Sheikh said.

The panel at the symposium also included: Steve Millaway, CEO of TechFarms LLC; Barbara Mitchell, vice president of Corporate Development for American Elite Molding; Giffney Nagel, community builder with the Cowork @nnex; and Tommy Barfield, District 3 secretary with the Florida Department of Transportation.

Kim Wilmes, president and CEO of Florida’s Great Northwest, moderated the panel. Florida’s Great Northwest is partnering with UWF’s Haas Center and Austin, Texas-based TIP Strategies to assist in developing a comprehensive regional economic transformation plan for Northwest Florida.

“In order to build upon that strategy, we’re going to need your help,” Wilmes told the crowd at the symposium. “We need you to be actively engaged.”