It’s a refrain I’ve been hearing for the past 18 months from clients all over the world: “We need more skilled people for our security team.”
The need is real and well-documented. A report from Frost & Sullivan and (ISC)2 found that the global cybersecurity workforce will have more than 1.5 million unfilled positions by 2020. But the security industry is a fast-growing market, with IDC pegging it as becoming a $101 billion opportunity by 2020. So what’s causing the talent shortage?
One of the big reasons is that security businesses tend to look for people with traditional technology credentials — college degrees in tech fields, for example. But security is truly everyone’s problem; virtually every aspect of personal and professional data is at risk. So why are we limiting security positions to people with four-year degrees in computer science, when we desperately need varied skills across so many different industries? Businesses should open themselves up to applicants whose nontraditional backgrounds mean they could bring new ideas to the position and the challenge of improving cybersecurity.
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Other burgeoning industries have been in similar positions throughout history. In 1951 the U.S. accounting industry was poised for growth but was predominantly male, with only 500 female certified public accountants in the country. After recognizing the problem, leaders across the accounting field teamed with industry associations and academic institutions to solve the issue through awareness campaigns and hiring initiatives. Today there are over 800,000 female CPAs in the U.S. Security businesses need to follow this example, taking a hard look at themselves to see what’s holding them back.
There are no signs that the bad guys are limiting their talent pool — and cybercrime is now a $445 billion business. The average company handles a bombardment of 200,000 security events per day. Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly more organized and aggressive, while the teams defending against these attacks are struggling to fill their ranks.
One way IBM is addressing the talent shortage is by creating “new collar” jobs, particularly in cybersecurity. These roles prioritize skills, knowledge, and willingness to learn over degrees and the career fields that gave people their initial work experience. Some characteristics of a successful cybersecurity professional simply can’t be taught in a classroom: unbridled curiosity, passion for problem solving, strong ethics, and an understanding of risks. People with these traits can quickly pick up the technical skills through on-the-job training, industry certifications, community college courses, and modern vocational and skills education programs.
We began using this approach about two years ago, and its success has been clear: 20% of our U.S. hiring in cybersecurity since 2015 has consisted of new collar professionals. Other organizations can use a similar approach by establishing apprenticeship opportunities, emphasizing certification programs, exploring new education models, supporting programs at community colleges or polytechnic schools, and looking for talent in new places. Some of our recent additions to the security team came from unexpected career fields such as retail, education, entertainment, and law. The two things they all had in common? They were curious about security and motivated to learn the skills.
Building a pool of talent to fill these new collar jobs is also an important part of the equation. A great example of this is the P-TECH educational model (Pathways in Technology Early College High School), which provides a training avenue for students to jumpstart their careers in cybersecurity. Public high school and college students in grades 9-14 get hands-on experience with the most sought-after technical skills. By combining specific elements of high school curricula, community college courses, hands-on skills training, and professional mentoring, these students are primed for successful entry into highly technical career fields. The P-TECH model has expanded to over 50 U.S. schools and 300 industry partners, with the goal of expanding to 80+ schools in 2017.
Of course, cutting-edge technology is going to be at the center of these new collar jobs. Artificial intelligence, for example, is being used in the workplace in a wide range of ways, and in cybersecurity it is already creating opportunities for new collar positions. AI not only provides a way to help overcome the skills shortage, but is also an important step forward in the way employees will work and companies will defend themselves. We’ve found that by using AI to gather and correlate the insights from the 60,000 security-related blog posts each month, security professionals can digest the relevant information much more efficiently, allowing organizations to upskill their employee base. Companies are already using Watson for Cyber Security to connect obscure data points humans can’t possibly identify on their own, enabling employees to find security threats 60x faster than manual investigations.
Companies that are interested in using a new collar approach to fill security positions should consider the following:
Re-examine your workforce strategy: Do you know what skills you need today and tomorrow to run a successful security program? Realize that skills and experience can come from a variety of places, and adjust your hiring efforts accordingly.
Improve your engagement and outreach: Don’t limit yourself to the same old career fairs and recruiting programs of yesteryear. Get involved in community colleges, P-TECH schools, and other educational programs to start building your recruiting base.
Build a local cybersecurity ecosystem: Connect with government organizations, educational institutions, and other groups. Sponsor Capture the Flag security events, and work with local middle and high schools to generate interest in the field. These groups are always looking for willing experts and mentors.
Have a robust support program for new hires: Mentorships, rotational assignments, shadowing, and other opportunities help new cybersecurity hires gain experience and learn. Remember, not everyone knows what they want to do right away. Keep new hires engaged by giving them the creative freedom to work on different projects and explore new technologies and services.
Focus on continuous learning and upskilling: To retain your new talent, keep employees current on the latest skill sets through classes, certifications, and conferences. Cybersecurity is a highly dynamic field, requiring ongoing education and exploration. And be open to employees from other areas of your business who express interest in cybersecurity career paths. Remember that AI provides employees with more intelligence and contextual recommendations at a speed and scale previously unimagined, so upskilling your workforce is a completely different ballgame these days.
Cybersecurity is a complex career field with extraordinarily challenging problems, but with a diverse pool of experiences and ideas, we stand a much greater chance of successfully defending our assets.