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University of Limerick apprenticeship to address significant skills gap in cyber security

Minister of State, Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Niall Collins TD announced the new Level 8 Honours Degree Cyber Security Practitioner Apprenticeship at University of Limerick Pictures: Arthur Ellis
Mon, 12 Jul 2021

With almost half of Irish businesses and organisations reporting unfilled roles in cyber security, a new apprenticeship programme launching at University of Limerick aims to address this critical skills shortage.

Minister of State, Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Niall Collins TD has today announced a new Level 8 Honours Degree Cyber Security Practitioner Apprenticeship at University of Limerick.

The two-year programme, which will commence intake in September 2022, has been developed by UL in collaboration with Limerick for IT industry network and the Mid-West Regional Skills Forum. The work-based apprenticeship will include 70% of students’ time spent learning on-the-job with the remainder, two days a week during the academic year, in an academic setting.

Minister Collins said: “I am thrilled to announce this new and incredibly important Practitioner Apprenticeship Level 8 Honours Degree in Cyber Security at UL.

“Cyber security is one of the greatest challenges facing society today and the labour market is crying out for staff who have the skills to combat the criminal gangs that are plaguing businesses, governments and individuals across the world.

“I am especially delighted that the course, while delivering an honours level 8 degree at the end, will be taught for the most part as an apprenticeship, with students spending 70% of their time learning practical skills with cyber security firms.

“We have big plans for increasing the number of apprenticeships in Ireland and this course is a perfect example of how apprenticeships can give learners the skills they need to fill a vital need in the labour market,” Minister Collins added.

Speaking about the need for the new programme Denis Kelly, former VP Dell and consortia chair, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work, and that includes cyber criminals, who have had a particularly busy and lucrative time.”

“The scale and complexity of cyber-attacks is wide ranging and financially devastating with a potential cost of $10.5 trillion by 2025 according to Dell EMC,” he added.

While there is a range of courses from entry level to post-graduate level across further and higher education providers in Ireland, the new UL apprenticeship programme will provide a unique bridging pathway for people who want to become cyber specialists.

In 2020, Cyber Ireland surveyed the current labour market for cyber security skills and identified a clear skills gap and skills shortages. These shortages are affecting organisations of all sizes (micro, small, medium and large) across a range of sectors, including indigenous and foreign owned companies.

The survey shows that 41% of organisations’ security teams are understaffed, a further 5% are significantly understaffed, and 48% of the companies have open or unfilled cyber security roles. A further 43% of cyber security hires are from outside of Ireland (28% from Europe and 15% outside Europe).

“Industry and education providers collaborating is how we address skill shortages in the Mid-West region. This new apprenticeship will help in developing a diverse pool of talent particularly for those working or looking to transition into IT roles,” said Joe Leddin, Regional Skills Forum manager.

The new UL apprenticeship was developed with a number of global industry partners and public sector organisations. The industry consortia will advise on desired learning outcomes for graduates and provide on the job learning in Dell, Northern Trust, Johnson & Johnson, WP-Engine, General Motors, BD, Action Point, Lufthansa, Transact Campus, Limerick, Clare and Tipperary County Councils and many more.

The programme will create a learning pathway for those who may have completed the current Level 6 Cyber Security apprenticeship under the Fastrack into IT programme while also facilitating those looking to upskill or reskill and already in employment.

“Recognition of prior learning (RPL) will be in place to recognise candidates with a lower or a lack of qualification provided they have significant industrial experience, and evidence of the ability to study at undergraduate level, such as the completion of professional training and development courses,” said Professor Ann Ledwith, Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies at UL.

University of Limerick is a member of Cyber Ireland and collaboration with the network will facilitate a national reach for the programme, which will produce cyber security technicians and specialists.

Dr Thomas Newe of UL’s Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering, a board member of Cyber Ireland and also a PI on the HCI funded CyberSkills project, said: “This initiative, combined with the suite of industry designed cyber security programmes that will be launched by UL@Work and CyberSkills, will develop Ireland’s cyber capabilities and provide resilience against future cyber-attacks that will inevitability occur.”