It’s no secret the ranks of the federal cybersecurity workforce are notably thin.
Think tank studies and media reports put the shortage of federal cyber professionals at anywhere from 30,000 to more than 10 times that in the broader labor force.
It’s a matter of supply and demand, federal officials attest: a glut of open positions for protecting the dot-gov domain and a lack of qualified personnel to fill them.
The federal government faces the exact inverse supply-demand imbalance when it comes to another signature initiative: reducing veteran unemployment and expanding work opportunities for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The good news is that cybersecurity is the great shiny object right now," Tim Polk, assistant director for cybersecurity in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told members of a science advisory board last month. “One of the ways that we're going to make progress in the cybersecurity workforce is by capitalizing on our connection to other administration priorities … things like getting returning veterans back into the workforce.”
For many, putting returning warfighters back to work as cyberdefenders makes sense.
"It should be a pretty good win-win, as we like to say, on marrying up the [workforce] shortage that we have and tapping into a pool of potential applicants that really could transition pretty effectively into the cyber workforce,” said Dan Waddell, director of government affairs at (ISC)2, a nonprofit focused on cyber education and certification.
Waddell’s group recently announced the second round of winners for its U.S. Cyber Warrior Scholarship program.
A partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton, the program provides returning veterans with training, textbooks and study materials and covers the cost for one of six (ISC)2 certifications, including the Certified Information Systems Security Professional test.
Applicants who’ve applied so far have typically had an IT background, but are still looking to crack into entry-level cyber positions.
"Being a veteran, they've already been exposed to some sort of IT training,” he told Nextgov. “So, it's not necessarily a very broad leap that they have to take in order to kind of get to that next level."
Plus, veterans typically already have a security clearance, much sought-after in government IT contracting, Waddell said.
"It's a great way for them to continue to serve their country,” Waddell said. “They may not be necessarily wearing the uniform anymore, but as a cyberwarrior you can still serve that mission."
The group is now accepting applications through January for a third round of applications.
A federal program dating to 2009 called “Vets to Feds,” which aims to ease the career pathway for veterans entering federal service, will focus especially on science, technology, engineering and math jobs in the coming year.
Last summer, the Department of Homeland Security launched a special hiring initiative specifically targeting veterans for cyber careers at the department to help fill gaps in its workforce that include cyberincident response, vulnerability detection and digital forensics.