Students, veterans address talent gap

Anyone who has tried to hire a security professional understands that there is a serious shortage of people with the skills needed to plan, design, implement and manage a cybersecurity strategy. In fact, according to ESG's “2016 IT Spending Intentions Survey,” 46 percent of organizations now claim that they have a problematic shortage of cybersecurity skills.

The question everyone in the industry is asking is: Where will we find the folks to fill this gap? Networks are undergoing dramatic transformations – fueled by BYOD, IoT, virtualization and cloud deployments. At the same time, threats are escalating in their prevalence, sophistication and impact. The lack of skilled cybersecurity professionals could literally stall our growing digital economy.

The cybersecurity industry offers a unique opportunity for students, military veterans and the underemployed. According to Forbes, one million new cybersecurity jobs are created every year. And there are expected to rise to five to six million by 2019. With a 74 percent increase in postings in just the past year, nearly half of these positions are going unfilled, in spite of the fact that 250,000 veterans transition out of the military every year to civilian life.

"...military veterans should be highly sought after..."

The security industry needs to expand the training and certifications needed to meet this growing demand by targeting ideal candidates for these positions, including tech-savvy high school and college students, under-employed individuals in related fields (such as technology or law enforcement), and military veterans. 

These groups already have many of the skills necessary to make cybersecurity a rewarding career. Today's college students, regardless of their majors, are immersed in technology. Yet, career opportunities in many mainstream fields are soft. Trained guidance counselors and highly available, certification-based training programs could help steer many of them toward a career in the high-growth, high-demand cybersecurity industry. Likewise, military veterans should be highly sought after by employers that understand the real synergies between military service and cybersecurity. 

For example, there are many reasons why veterans make good security operators. First, they have the proven ability to learn new skills and concepts, which makes them ideal candidates. And many have been trained in the use of some of the most advanced technologies in the world. 

Performance under pressure is another big differentiator for veterans. They have a capacity to accomplish priorities on time and they know the critical importance of staying with a task until it is done right. And like active military duty, cybersecurity is detail- and process-oriented, often with extreme consequences for failure. And because military duties involve a blend of individual and group productivity, they can function as both a highly effective team operator as well as an individual contributor. As a bonus, many veterans come with highly sought-after security clearances already in place.

Likewise, many in today's student population are already familiar with issues surrounding technology and privacy and are on the cutting edge of driving the changes fueling our transition to a digital economy. Technology is a second language to many of them and, with proper guidance, they can provide unique insight into the minds of today's threat actors – and the tools they use – that many established security professionals fail to grasp.

So, with all of these qualities, you'd think folks would be lining up to fill rewarding positions in cybersecurity. Unfortunately, that's not the case. For many, their transition from military service or academia to full-time employment can be a daunting and scary prospect. And far too many are simply unaware of the opportunities that exist in the cybersecurity field. 

Instead, school guidance counselors, employment specialists and military transitional authorities tend to position jobs in more traditional fields. For the military, veterans are often steered as their best opportunities toward careers in law enforcement, physical security, jobs with defense contractors, or even as blue collar laborers. And coursework in high schools and colleges, or job retraining information and programs for unemployed and underemployed individuals, rarely includes cybersecurity. 

Cybersecurity positions can leverage the unique skillsets of each of these groups, and can provide a sense of purpose, urgency and relevance that is often missing in other careers. This is a repeated theme we hear regularly from veterans employed at Fortinet, as well as from students who have completed our Fortinet Network Security Academy training that have been hired by corporations, security integrators and MSSPs. 

As an industry, we need to do more. We can sponsor and embrace security certifictions. We can build and fund training programs. We can reach out to schools and employment agencies and educate counselors on the opportunities, certifications and programs available – and how to identify good candidates. We can step up and help the military adopt transition programs that prepare veterans for positions in the cybersecurity marketplace. Our burgeoning digital business economy depends on it.

Stephan Tallent is senior director of managed security service providers at Fortinet. 

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