How schools can ease the cybersecurity talent shortage

By Josh Lemon, certified instructor at the SANS Institute, and managing director at Ankura
Monday, 21 March, 2022

How schools can ease the cybersecurity talent shortage

The cybersecurity industry offers various avenues for a successful career. However, these opportunities are clouded with the image of cybersecurity experts hidden behind screens in dark rooms hacking databases to uncover the missing piece of a puzzle. While it’s always possible that this could be the case for cybercriminals, cybersecurity experts definitely work with the lights turned on — just like those in most other industries.

Like other IT sectors, the cybersecurity industry suffers from a talent shortage. A 2021 report from RMIT University revealed a need for 156,000 new technology workers in Australia’s workforce, as 87% of jobs require digital and technical skills. In addition, more than half of Australian workers were found to have little to no knowledge of coding, blockchain or artificial intelligence.

These findings reflect an increasingly digitised world. With many organisations undergoing digital transformation, employees are required to adapt with digital skills, while cybersecurity experts must continuously reskill to meet the rapid change in the industry landscape.

However, the need for cybersecurity experts isn’t the result of digital transformation. Instead, digital transformation has emphasised the need for more cybersecurity experts. Students are leaving high school with a foggy image of what a career in the cybersecurity sector can look like. For this to change, high schools must do their part to inform students of career opportunities that could lessen the IT talent shortage.

Cybersecurity beyond password protection

Whether it’s the home tablet or the school’s laptop, there is a need for cyber awareness in everyday life. Practising the basics of cybersecurity is something many people do without realising, such as passwords and enabling multi-factor authentication on devices. But there remains a need for high schools to explore cybersecurity beyond that initial level, which has the potential to spark a student’s interest in the industry.

To give students the opportunity to work within the cybersecurity sector, high school teachers and career advisors must be able to communicate cybersecurity career paths. However, to communicate these opportunities, it comes down to teachers and career advisors being aware of the sector and the career streams it offers.

It is a common misconception for high school students that cybersecurity is simply trying to break into computer networks. While this is one speciality within cybersecurity, there is a vast array of other areas that involve project management, investigation, software and product development, advisory, policy development, risk assessment and so many more.

How to discuss cybersecurity with students

Technology is always advancing, which will only serve to create more avenues for cybersecurity roles in the future. While it’s essential to inform students of the types of careers available in cybersecurity, high school teachers and career advisors should be aware of the kinds of skills and qualities the sector needs beyond technical computer and software knowledge. Once this is achieved, it can shed light on the roles students can move into.

Technical skills are critical in cybersecurity, and these can be learned, fostered and evolved throughout a student’s career. It is essential for high schools to touch on individual students’ strengths in hopes of encouraging them to pursue cyber positions.

Broadly, cybersecurity enlists leaders, communicators, researchers, critical thinking — the list goes on. Having the qualities needed to fulfil various roles in the industry can position a student remarkably well when they first start out in the industry. However, this comes down to their mentors in high school being able to communicate that a student’s inquisitive nature or presenting skills can be applied to various sectors.

Breaking down the barriers of students’ misconception of cybersecurity is vital in closing the industry’s talent gap. By having high school mentors showcase the types of qualities applicable in the cyber world beyond computer skills, it can inspire the industry’s future thought leaders to dip their toes into the space.

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