Help Wanted: Combating the Cyber Skills Gap

  • September 18, 2019
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Recent news headlines frequently communicate about the massive shortage of cyber skills in the industry so we wanted to dig deeper into this phenomenon to find out why there’s a talent shortage and what can be done about it. Cyberattacks are permeating every commercial and government sector out there yet industry and analyst reports indicate there isn’t a large enough talent pool of defenders to keep pace with evolving threats. When data is compromised and there aren’t enough cyber security staff to secure the front lines, we ALL are at risk of identity theft, monetary losses, reputational damage, fines, and operational disruption. cy

Statistics on the Cyber Skills and Talent Gap

With more than one in four organizations experiencing an advanced persistent threat (APT) attack and when 97 percent of those APT’s are considered a credible threat to national security and economic stability, it’s no wonder the skills shortage is on everyone’s mind.

A report from Frost & Sullivan found that the global cybersecurity workforce will have more than 1.8 million unfilled positions by 2020 (that’s next year!) while some sources report a 3.5 million shortfall by 2021.

It begs several questions:

  • What’s causing the shortage of cybersecurity skills? According to a Deloitte report, the lack of effective training opportunities and risk of attrition may be to blame.
  • Is there really a shortage of talent? Hacker, security evangelist, and cyber security professional Alyssa Miller thinks there is more of a cyber talent disconnect between job seeker’s expectations of what a job entails versus what employer’s demand from a prospective candidate.
  • How do we fill these cyber positions? A study of 2,000 American adults found that nearly 80% of adults never considered cyber security careers. Why? Sheer unawareness. Most had never even heard of specific cyber job roles like a penetration tester and software engineer and others were deterred by their lack of education, interest, and knowledge about how to launch a cyber career.

Strategies to Minimize the Cybersecurity Skills Shortage

Given the pervasive nature of cyber security attacks, businesses can’t afford to wait around for premiere talent to walk through the door. Companies need to take a proactive and non-traditional approach to hiring talent—and, yes, it takes effort.

Miller suggests that recruiters “must learn to engage security professionals through less traditional avenues. The best security recruiters have learned how to connect with the community via social media. They’ve learned how to have meaningful interactions on Twitter and are patient in their approach.”

Whether looking to fill a position in digital forensics or computer programming or network defense or even cyber law, the skills required for those positions can be taught with the right tools. Companies should learn to be flexible with those requirements as many are now filling unopened positions by hiring and then teaching and training professionals on preferred cyber skills and competencies. Recruiters need to adopt a paradigm shift during the talent search and be more comfortable hiring for character and cultural fit first, then, training for skills development.

Fill the talent pipeline

Consider hiring people with different industry backgrounds or skill sets to bring new ideas to the table. Sometimes, getting an “outside” perspective on the challenges firms are facing sheds a new light because they notice nuances and inconsistencies that internal teams, who are in the day-to-day, may not see immediately. Look for passionate candidates with an eagerness to learn.

Companies today are prioritizing skills, knowledge, and willingness to learn over degrees and career fields because they know that some things cannot be taught in a classroom such as: curiosity, passion, problem-solving, and strong ethics.

Look for individuals with real-world experience

If you happen to have candidates in your pipeline that have industry knowledge, ask about their real-world experience. Inquire about the kinds of things they’ve learned in their previous position and get them to share how they remedied attacks. Create a checklist of skills you desire from a candidate that may include identity management, incident response management, system administration, network design and security, and hacking methodologies, to name a few. Learning how they dealt with real situations will reveal a lot about their personality, character, and skill set.

Re-examine job postings

Often a job posting is the only thing compelling a candidate to apply for a position. If the job posting is simply a laundry list of skills requirements and degree preferences, it may deter candidates who have those skills but also seek to work for a company that values innovation, creativity, and strategic vision. Read descriptions carefully to determine if they portray the culture of your organization. If a cultural vibe is lacking, it may be time to inject a sense of corporate personality to attract the right candidates.

Provide continuous professional development opportunities

With advances in technology, professionals need to be on top of the latest trends and tools to succeed in their job. That is why it is vital to re-skill and persistently train cybersecurity professionals so they can prepare for anything that comes their way—and you can retain your top talent. Conferences, webinars and certifications are not for everyone—so it is important to find growth opportunities that employees want to pursue for both their personal as well as their professional benefit.

Create a culture of empowerment for retention

CISOs can set expectations early in the hiring process so candidates understand how their specific role impacts the organization. For example, during the interview process, notify candidates of your expectation that they be “students of the industry” such that they are expected to stay on top of security news and happenings.

Gartner advocates for a “people-centric security” approach where stacks of tools are secondary to the powerful human element of security. Additionally, send out quarterly or bi-monthly roundups of the latest cyber security news and events to keep your team abreast of current affairs. Making it as easy as possible for them to be “students of the industry” increases the likelihood that they will remain current on industry developments and engaged in their role.

Invest in Cyber Training to Cultivate Talent

Executives are demonstrating their support for strong info security programs by increasing hiring budgets, supporting the development of info security operation centers (SOCs) and providing CISOs with the resources they need to build strong teams.

With the right talent, you will have a better chance of successfully defeating attackers, staying aware of current threats, and protecting your team, your company—and your job. These strategies will go a long way in preventing future attacks and preparing staff and systems to respond when things go awry. The cyber security staffing shortage is no longer just a cyber security department issue—it’s a global business risk issue.