Cybersecurity needs a makeover if we are to meet the demand for skills

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With a new report showing the skills gap is widening, James Lane, head of digital, creative and design at educational charity NCFE, marks the end of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month by explaining why the role needs a change in perception if we are to attract a more diverse workforce to the industry.

Dull digital padlocks, symbols floating futuristically through the air, and dark hands roaming dark keyboards. A quick Google image search on cybersecurity highlights the perception problem facing the industry.

Despite this, a workforce study released last month by (ISC)² shows that the number of cybersecurity professionals worldwide has increased by more than 11% in the past year. Some countries, such as Japan, have seen an increase of more than 40% during this period.

Yet the skills gap continues to grow, with an estimated shortage of 3.43 million cybersecurity professionals worldwide, up 25% this year alone, and the demand for talent continues to outstrip the supply. The same report in 2021 highlighted that the global workforce must grow by 65% ​​in order to effectively defend organizations against threats.

We can see that cybersecurity represents an industry in which people will not only find jobs (permanent jobs at that!) but also have the opportunity to progress and develop their careers. So what is the problem?

As a leader in technical and vocational learning, we not only have a deep understanding of skills demand and career prospects, but also the barriers learners face when making decisions about their future. and begin their training process in a new industry.

That’s why I think perception can’t be ignored when it comes to cybersecurity.

Let’s start with the most obvious: sex. If you were to ask the general public what proportion of cybersecurity professionals are male, the answer would be around 90% or more. As of last year, the actual proportion of women working in cybersecurity is almost a quarter (24%). This increased by 11% in 2017.

In fact, according to the 2021 (ISC)² report, the career prospects for women in this sector are excellent, as a higher percentage of women move into senior positions in cybersecurity than men. More proof, if need be, that attracting a more diverse workforce is good for the industry as a whole.

A secondary stereotype, but one that shouldn’t be ignored, is what work experience actually entails. If popular culture is to be believed, it’s either fending off real-time threats from Russian hackers or sitting in a dark room surrounded by energy drinks and take-out containers.

In fact, much of the role is proactive rather than reactive.

It’s about finding new and more effective ways to protect an organization. Cybersecurity is actually what I would classify as a creative industry – not in the traditional artist and author sense, but there is a poetry to cybersecurity that is far from the binary thinking that most people assume.

While it is true that the profession suits logical thinkers, often strong in mathematics, this is by no means the cliché so often depicted.

Perception is extremely important. Young people making decisions about their future are influenced by many factors. From more traditional sources such as teachers, guidance counselors and family, to how they view a position or industry from the media they consume.

While there have been strenuous attempts to overturn stereotypes – just think of the somewhat notorious government-backed ad depicting a ballet dancer who could retrain to work in cybersecurity – I think the general sentiment was correct.

Next year will see the launch of the cybersecurity professional specialty which will be part of the Digital T Level. The qualification is aimed at young people aged 16 to 19 and is equivalent to three A Levels, with a focus on developing technical and professional skills through a mix of classroom learning and an internship in industry.

I think this presents a tremendous opportunity to attract a younger, more diverse workforce to the industry and create a talent pool.

With a significant part of the internship qualification, it will give students the chance to experience the cybersecurity workplace first hand. Importantly, in addition to learning the job itself, it gives a window into what a career really entails – away from the tropes that surround cybersecurity and IT in general.

By James Lane, head of digital, creative and design at educational charity NCFE

James Lane is Head of Digital, Creative and Design at the educational charity NCFE. He leads sector representation and specialty support to ensure the voice of the sector is included in all areas of NCFE work. Having worked in the industry for many years prior to joining the NCFE, James is passionate about the inclusion, availability and accessibility of these fields and the importance they place on employability and success. learners.

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