New Cyber Consortium to Create Economic Opportunities for Arkansans

The partnership aims to support a diverse workforce and economic development.

Black IT Programmer Working on Desktop Computer

There’s a growing need for workers in the cybersecurity industry with roughly 1,900 open positions in Arkansas and nearly 600,000 nationwide, according to Cyber Seek. Analysts expect those numbers to increase in the next few years.

To develop a skilled workforce to fill that need, officials today announced the launch of the Consortium for Cyber Innovation during a press conference in Little Rock. The new initiative is a collaboration between the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Forge Institute, Acxiom and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“The consortium is a first-of-its-kind assembly of academic and industry partners with the intended purpose of accelerating learning pipelines and research results; supporting cyber data science and national defense applications; and creating a robust industry cluster that will lead to the creation of high paying jobs,” said Lee Watson, CEO and founder of Forge Institute.

Entry level salaries can range from $42,000 to $130,000 and many of these jobs can be done remotely, allowing employees to live wherever they want, Watson said.

Forge Institute and UA Little Rock have worked together on previous initiatives and the consortium is a continuation of that collaboration. Earlier this year, the two organizations signed an agreement that allows graduates who finish Forge Institute’s IT Fundamentals program to earn three hours of academic credit from UA Little Rock. The UA System, Forge and industry partners have also formed a task force to identify large-scale federally-funded opportunities that can help make the learning experience and research more robust, Watson said. 

The two organizations are also working on a health care cybersecurity certification research project and a summer camp for 7th through 12th graders, both of which are funded by the National Security Agency. 

With a newly launched bachelor of science degree program in cybersecurity and other initiatives in computer science education, chancellor Christina Drale said UA Little Rock is “committed to growing a talented workforce of highly-skilled cyber professionals in central Arkansas” and today’s announcement takes that commitment a step further.

“This collaboration sets the stage for additional partnerships and initiatives that will establish Arkansas as the national leader in cybersecurity and related emerging technologies,” Drale said.

As the state’s land-grant, historically Black university, UAPB expects to contribute to the consortium’s strategic initiatives in a number of ways, chancellor Laurence Alexander said.

“Our expectation is that our university’s priorities of expanding computer education and the cyber workforce will lead to a more diverse industry workforce, reaching many of our underrepresented populations,” Alexander said. “As such, the consortium will help build regional capacity to support economic growth and development across various industry sectors.” 

Additional partners are expected to be added to the consortium in the coming years.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.