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More Supply, More Demand: Cybersecurity Skills Gap Remains
Although the number of programs for training workers in cybersecurity skills has increased, as well as the number of graduates, the gap in supply and demand for cybersecurity-skilled workers is essentially unchanged, leaving companies to struggle.
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer
June 27, 2019
6 Min Read
Although a variety of initiatives have worked to increase the supply of cybersecurity professionals, demand for cybersecurity workers has also increased, leaving the overall landscape in the jobs market unchanged, according to a report released on June 25 by Burning Glass Technologies, a workforce analysis firm.
The result: For every opening in cybersecurity-related professions, there are only 2.3 employed workers to pull from, almost exactly the same as three years ago. In the general US job market, the situation is not nearly so dire, with an average of almost six employed professionals who could fill each job opening.
The shortfall exists despite efforts to increase training. The number of programs for training workers in cybersecurity skills has grown by a third between 2013 and 2017, while the number of graduates has increased by over 40%, yet the number of job postings requiring cybersecurity skills has grown 94%, says Will Markow, author of the report and manager of client strategy for Burning Glass Technologies.
"The problem is that the demand growth has been so strong and the evolution of skill requirements has been so rapid that we still have not seen a significant budge in the ratio of supply-to-demand for cybersecurity workers," he says.
The shortage of skilled cybersecurity workers has been a common theme over the past decade and continues to affect businesses. While a variety of organizations — from manufacturers to municipalities and from financial institutions to small businesses — are facing significant damages from attacks, almost three-quarters of organizations have a shortage in cybersecurity workers, according to a survey published in May by the Information Systems Security Associations (ISSA).
In many ways, the problem is the fast-evolving nature of the discipline — it remains nearly impossible to hire a worker trained in the exact mix of skills that a business believes it needs, Candy Alexander, executive cybersecurity consultant and president of ISSA, said in a statement.
"Organizations are looking at the cybersecurity skills crisis in the wrong way: it is a business, not a technical, issue," she said. "Business executives need to acknowledge that they have a key role to play in addressing this problem by investing in their people."
Businesses need to focus on regularly training workers and allowing them to advance their skills sets. While 93% of cybersecurity practitioners cite a need to keep up their skills, about two-thirds of workers say their daily duties make it impossible for them to do so, according to ISACA's report.
Such training is necessary, says Burning Glass's Markow. The skills required of cybersecurity professionals are in a constant state of flux. Four years ago, the most in-demand skills included Python, HIPAA, risk management, and internal auditing, showing that most companies had a compliance-focused approach to security. Cybersecurity jobs that required expertise in information-systems management, information assurance, or Sarbanes-Oxley compliance were the hardest to fill.
In 2019, the picture has changed. Companies are focused on specific security disciplines, with public-cloud security, Internet of Things security, and cybersecurity strategy topping the list of in-demand skills, according to Burning Glass's latest report.
"We're now seeing a shift toward managing risk associated with cyber threats and adopting risk management frameworks," says Markow. "Not just checking off a box, but helping the organization understand where they are facing the most critical risks and benchmarking the tolerance for those risks."
Automation remains a key skill demanded by companies. Job posting requiring automation skills grew 255% over the past six years, compared with 133% for risk-management skills and 94% for cybersecurity in general. The most in-demand skills within automation are Python, PERL, Java, and Splunk, according to the Burning Glass report. Even four years ago, the company's 2015 report noted that knowledge of the Python programming language had become a top job skill, suggesting that the move toward automation was already under way.
For cybersecurity workers who can develop automation skills, the payoff can be significant. The average premium for cybersecurity roles that include an automation component is $14,000 on average.
For companies, the choice is a trade-off, Markow says.
"If you want to automate all of these skills and those processes, you have significant premium to do so," he says. "Employers have to determine whether they are willing to have the trade-off of paying less for the workers they do not have to hire by paying more for the workers that they do hire."
The report also sheds light on a common trend. The shortage in cybersecurity workers has driven many companies to use managed and professional security services, raising the demand for — and cost of — those professionals. The result is a self-supporting feedback loop with higher salaries offered by professional services driving cybersecurity professionals into those positions, leaving companies with few options but to use such services to eliminate the gap.
"Many workers will be scooped up by professional services firms, and then they will support a broad range of firms who cannot bring talent in-house, either because there is not enough talent or the talent is too expensive," Markow says. "It's not an uncommon scenario. We see that across many industries. It's always a challenge when there is a very small workforce to prevent those workers from becoming concentrated in professional services firms."
For companies looking to pull away from a reliance on professional firms, the report offers some advice. Companies should identify internal employees who may have interest in being trained in security. In addition, they need to focus on their cybersecurity pipeline, developing relationships with local universities and programs that train workers in cybersecurity disciplines.
"It is a very thorny problem without any easy solution," Markow says. "But companies that start with a general understanding of the key demands of the industry, how that is evolving over time and into the future, can set their expectations and start on the path to developing talent."
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About the Author(s)
Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline Journalism (Online) in 2003 for coverage of the Blaster worm. Crunches numbers on various trends using Python and R. Recent reports include analyses of the shortage in cybersecurity workers and annual vulnerability trends.
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