Global Cyber Workforce Shortage Mirrors Government’s Struggle

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The lack of qualified cyber workers outpaces concerns about budget and resources for a large share of the cyber workforce.

There’s a shortage of nearly 3 million cybersecurity professionals worldwide and nearly 500,000 in North America, according to a study released by a major cybersecurity certification organization Wednesday.

Those figures echo a cyber workforce shortage in the federal government that has bedeviled agencies struggling to improve the security of their networks.

The shortage of qualified cyber professionals is now the number one job concern for cyber workers, beating out low budgets and lack of resources, according to the report, which was compiled by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)², a major cyber credentialing organization.

The report was based on a survey of roughly 1,500 respondents across North and South America, Europe and Asia who work in cybersecurity as at least one-fourth of their workload.

The White House and federal agencies have consistently cited the cyber workforce shortage as a major management challenge. A joint report from the Commerce and Homeland Security departments in May urged speeding hiring processes and background checks and offering salary incentives to new cyber workers.

Military and intelligence agencies already have more flexibility to speed the cyber hiring process. Still, Fort Meade, which houses the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command is in the process of recruiting about 3,000 new cyber employees over the next few years, a spokesman said during a recent media tour.

The rigorous background checks for Fort Meade employees has contributed to the longer lag time to fill cyber positions, the spokesman said.

The government has struggled not just to recruit and retain cyber workers but also to ensure that they’re appropriately qualified for the jobs they hold. The Office of Personnel Management has ordered agencies to create a comprehensive portrait of their cyber workforce shortages by April.

The (ISC)² report also found that Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers, who are roughly between their mid-30s and mid-70s, comprise 49 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce while Millennials comprise about 35 percent of the workforce. The majority of other respondents declined to share their age, an (ISC)² spokesman said. 

The federal information technology workforce is significantly grayer with IT workers over 60 often outpacing workers under 30 by 2-to-1 or more.