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7 Ways to Fill Cyber Workforce Gaps in a Generation

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Here’s the downside to all the job-easing and time-saving technologies proliferating across government, industry and commerce: There aren’t nearly enough skilled workers to make sure that technology is secure.

The U.S. is facing a shortfall of nearly 300,000 cybersecurity workers, according to government funded research.

The global cybersecurity workforce shortage is projected to reach 1.8 million by 2022, according to the cyber certification group (ISC)².

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The result is that government and industry are often much less secure than they should be. The situation is especially dire in government because outsized salaries for cyber pros in the private sector lure away many of the government’s most talented cyber defenders.

Closing that gap will require a generational effort, representatives from industry, academia and certification organizations told the government’s cyber standards agency in response to a recent call for comments.  

Top priorities include surging tech and cybersecurity training in K-12 curriculum, seeding universities with cyber-focused scholarships and better defining cyber workforce categories so students and prospective employees know where to focus their learning and on the job training, according to the comments delivered to the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology last week.

NIST took a step forward on the final priority Monday with the publication of an updated version of its cybersecurity workforce framework.

Commenters also urged the government to invest in programs that raise the number of women and minority cybersecurity professionals.

The call for comments is part of a governmentwide effort to study the cyber workforce gap mandated by a May executive order from President Donald Trump. The study’s goal is to “ensure that the United States maintains a long-term cybersecurity advantage.”

Here are seven big ideas from commenters:

1. Think creatively about credentials.

Government and industry jobs often require a litany of certifications and academic degrees that aren’t necessarily good gauges of an applicant’s abilities.

“‘Certifications’ or college degrees in the technical field are often cited as proof of competency, however, that is often not the case,” the federal contractor Accenture noted.

The Defense Department, for instance, is updating its baseline for information assurance certification and training to de-emphasize education and certifications in favor of work experience and demonstrated aptitude, the contractor noted.

2. Focus on community and vocational colleges.

Not every cybersecurity challenge will require someone with a four-year degree to respond to it. Numerous commenters urged the government and academic groups to invest in new cybersecurity curriculum and training programs for community and vocational colleges.

Government and academia should also invest in programs that help people in other careers transition to the cybersecurity field mid-career, several commenters said.

3. Forgive loans.

Government could also incentivize students to pursue cybersecurity careers by partnering with industry on student loan forgiveness programs, the company Cyber World Institute suggested.

The company suggests a plan for full loan forgiveness in exchange for working in the cybersecurity field for five or six years.

4. Leverage veterans.

Veterans often have highly useful technology and cybersecurity skills that could be a boon to government and industry, but they may need some retraining to take those skills from a military context to a civilian one, commenters noted. The Veterans Affairs Department could ramp up its cyber skills training programs and expand GI Bill benefits for cybersecurity education and training, the industry group BSA: The Software Alliance suggested.

The Pentagon could also expand the Air Force’s VetSuccess program, which offers cybersecurity training to troops transitioning into civilian careers, across the services, BSA said.

5. Government and industry should work together.

Government and industry could improve cyber workforce skills by making it easier for industry pros to take short-term tours in government and vice versa, the professional association ISACA urged.

DOD’s information technology office has experimented with such short-term assignments, but they remain rare in government because of the rigorous security clearance process required for government work.

6. Get the government’s house in order.

On the wonkier side, the cyber education group U.S. Cyber Challenge urged government to consolidate its cyber workforce efforts that are now operated out of the Homeland Security Department’s cyber operations wing into NIST.

“This will align the statutory authority with the organizational responsibilities,” the group headed by former White House tech lead Karen Evans noted.

7. Measurement and flexibility

Finally, any effort to bolster the cyber workforce may be stymied if NIST isn’t adequately measuring how well that effort is achieving its goals and isn’t prepared to pivot as the cyber landscape changes, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., co-founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus wrote.

Advances in artificial intelligence, for example, may make some cybersecurity career tracks superfluous while the expansion of internet-connected devices may spawn new cyber career categories that aren’t even envisioned today, Langevin said.

“This is perhaps one of the most significant challenges that we will face in shaping tomorrow’s workforce,” Langevin wrote, “and it will require novel approaches to training.”

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