New partnership set to drive cybersecurity skills and talent in the Waikato

May 30, 2022

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An innovative partnership connecting industry, academia, and commercialized research, is helping to drive the growth of cybersecurity skills and capabilities in the Waikato.

Spark Waikato, a digital infrastructure solutions provider, has announced a partnership with technology company First Watch and the University of Waikato, to deliver specialized cybersecurity solutions to business and organizations, and to drive research and capability in this space.

First Watch is a leading provider of cybersecurity solutions, using an innovative process to protect the core assets – the HMI and PLC of operational technology (OT) networks from cybersecurity risk.
First Watch was developed at the University of Waikato in 2017, under the lead of Professor Ryan Ko in collaboration with cybersecurity students and became a commercial venture in 2019 through a partnership with CTEK and the University.

Spark Waikato, part of the Spark Business Group, has joined the partnership to help meet the increasing demand for specialized security services across their client base, and develop the skills needed for this ever-growing industry.

The University is providing students from their Master of Cyber Security programme to support the provision of Security Operations (SECOPS) services to Spark clients in the region.

Spark Waikato Practice Manager Chris Sharpe said there is a growing demand for specialized security services, and for skilled cybersecurity professionals to deliver those services.

“Cybersecurity issues are closer to home than people often realize. Businesses and networks are becoming more vulnerable than ever. Attacks and threats are increasing month on month, and attackers are becoming more sophisticated and effective,” Chris said.

“This partnership helps us achieve many priorities: First, it gives us the ability to deliver specialized security services to protect our clients’ core networks.

“Secondly, it helps us fill the increasing skill shortage for cyber security professionals, by helping develop local career pathways for cybersecurity students and keeping their talent in the region.”

“And thirdly, it creates a bridge between research and industry, where information is shared, experience is gained, and industry challenges are fed back to research. It’s fantastic we’re able to leverage the capability of First Watch and the University of Waikato and apply it to our clients’ real-world requirements right here in the Waikato, while shaping future research,” Chris said.

First Watch Managing Director Bob Stokes said the partnership will support the company to overcome significant skill gap challenges and develop the workforce needed to implement specialized solutions.

“We need to develop the right skills and capabilities and grow the cybersecurity workforce, so we can meet the increasing demand for complex systems security solutions.”

“Through this partnership we can offer career pathways to students, benefiting from their research while supporting them to build a successful career in the industry,” said Bob.

University of Waikato Senior Lecturer Dr Vimal Kumar said the partnership has many benefits for students, the University, and the cybersecurity industry.

“Partnerships like this help us close the gap between academia, research, and the industry. Students are given an invaluable opportunity to apply their research in real-world settings, and use the knowledge and insight gained to shape future research.”

“This is especially important in an industry like cybersecurity, which is a rapidly evolving landscape with ever-changing technology and challenges,” Vimal said.

With the partnership underway in the region, Chris said Spark Waikato clients are benefiting from the innovative collaboration.

“We’re already seeing the advantages of working together in this unique way, and we’re excited about the opportunities for growth, scalability, and future collaboration,” Chris said.

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