Addressing gaps in the industrial cybersecurity workforce

Posted: July 19, 2021

by Vimal Buck, Electrical and Computer Senior Lead Engineer at the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME), The Ohio University

Manufacturing is evolving at a rapid pace as Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing become more prevalent. 

Vimal Buck
Vimal Buck

Industry 4.0, at a high level, is an umbrella term encompassing the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices. Factories of the future are increasingly automated, relying on large-scale machine-to-machine communication underpinned by the industrial Internet of Things (IoT)

In the past, employers could effectively not connect machines to the internet, and the machines would remain secure (air-gapped). As machines become increasingly connected, they become vulnerable to security threats from across the planet.

Recently, we have witnessed cyber attacks that have crippled infrastructure, including the Colonial Pipeline attack that was the largest cyberattack on an oil infrastructure target in the history of the United States and effectively immobilized fuel delivery in the southeastern U.S. for several days. We have seen an attack on JBS SA, the largest meat producer globally, which forced the shutdown of all its U.S. beef plants, wiping out the output from facilities that supply almost a quarter of American supplies. We have even witnessed an attack on the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest transit network in North America.

The need for solutions to combat cybersecurity and digital trust issues is clear – as is the need for manufacturers to prioritize and invest in cybersecurity measures. However, there is also a need for a trained, skilled workforce to advance security efforts and anticipate future challenges.

Addressing the need for a trained, skilled workforce

A 2018 study co-sponsored by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute estimated a total of 2.4 million unfilled manufacturing jobs in the U.S. between 2018 and 2035. A staggering 89% of manufacturing executives perceived a talent shortage in U.S. manufacturing. This perception was corroborated by long-term data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which demonstrated that the number of openings in the manufacturing sector exceeded hiring in this sector over the last decade. 

Deloitte completed its fifth such survey in 2021 with over 800 manufacturers, including interviews with key labor organization executives and multiple sectors. Their findings indicate the shortage has only been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the study, the pandemic outbreak initially resulted in a net loss of 1.4 million U.S. manufacturing jobs, which effectively erased more than a decade of manufacturing job gains. The industry rebounded and recouped around 63% of the lost jobs; however, the remaining 570,000 have not been added back, despite nearly 500,000 job openings and record hiring numbers in the sector. 

U.S. manufacturing executives surveyed believe that finding the right skilled talent is 36% harder than in 2018.

Even as demand for skilled manufacturing talent has risen, the supply of qualified workers has diminished. In 2019, the last year for which complete data is available, 31.3 percent of the manufacturing workforce left the industry. Although there are various reasons for the turnover (Deloitte/TMI, for example, points to retiring baby boomers). One reason that has been well documented is the displacement of less skilled workers. 

To combat this problem, we believe up-skilling and re-skilling the existing workforce is key and appropriately training future workers.

At CDME, we also believe the best way to gain new skills is by doing. We believe hands-on learning that mirrors real-world practices makes a difference.

CDME has successfully completed over 450 projects for more than 150 different partners since its inception approximately five years ago. During this time, CDME has directly employed more than 200 undergraduate students. These students, who play a role in industry projects and research endeavors, are mentored by CDME engineers and Ohio State faculty members and staff. They also complete internships and co-ops with businesses to gain additional workforce experience and training in cutting-edge engineering, business, and security-related practices. 

Click here to gain additional insight into how CDME’s undergraduate student program transforms workforce development

Leveraging equipment and technical skills to have an impact

At CDME, we are in the process of deploying a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system with funding from Ohio’s Regionally Aligned Priorities in Delivering Skills (RAPIDS) grant. A SCADA system is built to collect and analyze data from industrial equipment. This system will augment existing additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence robotic manufacturing cells and training processes. With a growing surge in automation, industrial IoT, and robotics, the ability to understand, deploy, and use SCADA will encompass key skills for students to learn. 

The SCADA system will enhance CDME’s robotics lab and light prototyping facility along with additional machines housed in Ohio State’s Department of Integrated Systems Engineering and the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), including sensors, networking capability, and a vision system to around 30-plus devices.

As part of the Ohio Cybersecurity Initiative for Mobility and Manufacturing (OCIMM), a component of Ohio State’s Institute for Cybersecurity and Digital Trust (ICDT), the SCADA system will be an integral part of a campus-wide testbed platform. Training modules are being developed that interface to the Ohio Cyber Range Institute, a statewide cybersecurity practice range. 

While most of content from Regional Programming Centers on the Ohio Cyber Range focuses on virtual networking exercises, Ohio State plans to leverage its industrial-scale equipment to create a more realistic, more industrial-focused cybersecurity offering. 

CDME is also working on a project alongside the SecureAmerica Institute in which researchers are creating a set of tools to help identify if or when a robot has been compromised. We are leveraging both the Artificially Intelligent Manufacturing Systems Lab (AIMS) at CDME and our data sharing capabilities for that project.

Gaining access to workers who have hands-on experience and technical expertise in this environment will be invaluable to employers. Through these projects and training practices, our student employees will be better prepared to understand industry processes upon graduation. 

In research, gaining access to industrial-scale equipment can be challenging, particularly in the cybersecurity realm. Companies seldom want to disclose cyberattacks or vulnerabilities, so researchers must create pseudo environments to test in. However, the diverse array of equipment at CDME allows faculty and students to conduct research in a real industrial setting. 

If you're interested in collaborating or gaining additional insight into the CDME program, let's connect. 

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