In 2015, 89% of cybersecurity job postings went unfilled due to the high standards that companies imposed for entry and midlevel positions, according to a CareerBuilder survey. Not enough job applicants had the necessary skills and/or certifications that hiring managers were looking for in potential new employees. The problem is perfect cybersecurity workers don't exist — or if they do, they're employed elsewhere.
When companies began outsourcing, there was a decrease in IT graduates because students feared going into the field without the promise of a career. Combine this lack of incentive with the relatively slow adaption of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills as a part of a revamped education curriculum, and it's evident that young people aren't introduced to IT opportunities until too late. Interest in other subjects and alternative career paths often occur during crucial development years.
It's frightening that this shortage of IT skills education coincides with the rapid evolution of the Internet of Things and connected devices — cue the onslaught of new cybersecurity threats. These threats have the potential to be more dangerous than ever. Not only can hackers gain access into consumers' lives through personal computers and mobile phones, but thanks to the web-like nature of connected technology, they can now break into cars, homes, and all the way through to banks and traffic lights.
So, where do we turn from here? How can the industry begin to develop a workforce that is prepared to handle the fluidity and pace of today's cybersecurity industry, closing the cybersecurity skills gap?
Encourage Career Growth Outside of Management
In today's workplace, the path to both financial and career success often runs through management — this is especially true when it comes to small and medium-sized businesses and startups. An employee who is technically gifted at his or her craft often reaches a career "ceiling," and the only way to break through and move up the ranks is to jump to the management side. To keep the brightest and most technically gifted IT workers in the trenches, where they're often most effective, we need to give them incentives — whether financial, a change in title, or both.
Set Realistic Expectations at the Entry Level
Employers must be realistic about expectations for entry-level applicants because this can widen the candidate pool. In a field that evolves as rapidly as IT, many entry-level positions require industry certifications and training that a new employee might not necessarily have (especially those just out of school). Employers should consider applicants who may have some but not all the required skills, knowing that they will be fully trained during their employment. At these entry-level positions, employers should focus on other "big picture" qualities and soft skills that may make the candidate a good fit for the role and the company, including communication skills, business knowledge, and working as part of a team.
Build "Corporate Universities"
This is an area already seeing growth as companies look for ways they can turn generalists into cybersecurity specialists. These corporate universities allow companies to hire less-qualified employees and train them for current tasks. When the tasks are complete, the employee goes back to the university to get training on the next project. This can be a two-way street for both the company and the employee. While the company gives employees access to the resources they need, an employee can request courses and educational tools to continue professional growth.
Promote STEM Boot Camps for Kids
Many organizations are creating STEM boot camps for kids, designed to get them involved at a younger age. These camps help students build a strong STEM foundation by teaching the basics of math, chemistry, and biology, among other subjects. In a time where the demand for cybersecurity professionals is rising as the candidate supply is falling, it's imperative to invest in the future of the industry.
Make IT Fun
IT and cybersecurity are no laughing matter, but that doesn't mean they can't be fun. Organizations are beginning to host networking events and friendly competitions such as hackathons to allow cybersecurity professionals to network and meet industry peers, while sharpening their skills in the process. Not only are the outcomes and discussions from these events a positive step for the industry, but a little professional fun keeps morale high.
As threats continue to grow with the introduction of new innovations and technologies, cybersecurity and IT skills are more important than ever. Through early and continued education and exposure, as well as a few shifts to organizational structure and expectations, we can begin to get a handle on the skills gap, taking a giant step toward filling the growing number of empty cybersecurity positions.