The cybersecurity skills gap is one of the most widely-reported technology issues across industries — and for good reason. Predictions say that the gap will produce 1.5 million open and unfilled positions by the year 2020. With the frequency and severity of cyberattacks rising every day — last year alone brought us the disastrous, global ransomware attacks WannaCry, NotPetya and Bad Rabbit — what all industries need more than ever are talented cybersecurity professionals. And the skills gap is hitting state and local governments the hardest.
With cybersecurity talent in such high demand, hiring trained professionals has become a very competitive process. Empowered with so many employment options, these cybersecurity experts can command increasingly higher salaries and benefits, and state and local government organizations that have more restrictive budgets often find it difficult to compete with private-sector organizations vying for the same talent. As private-sector corporations come to take security more seriously in the wake of high-profile incidents like the ransomware attack on the city of Atlanta, government agencies are struggling more than ever to find and recruit trained security professionals.
So, what is the answer? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, or one solution that will bring about immediate results to ease today’s challenges. But there is a solution that, with time and investment, may prove to be our only hope. It is time we prioritize reaching out to the largest pool of untapped talent: kids. It has long been said that children are the future, and that includes the future of cybersecurity.
Several nonprofit organizations have already cropped up with the goal of further developing the technology and cybersecurity skills of children — especially for girls, who represent a large group of untapped talent that will help close the skills gap faster. For example, last year, the Girl Scouts launched a new Cybersecurity Badge. Organizations like Girls Who Code are offering summer camps nationwide to develop girls’ tech skills. And Austin, Texas’ local Girlstart hosts after-school programs and events for girls that aim to increase their confidence in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. A host of industry-leading technology companies have already pledged their financial and social support to these initiatives.
While government agencies may not have the same funds as companies like Google and Apple do to donate to programs like these, they can become involved in a number of nonprofits to offer support that benefits the organization while also introducing their agency to tomorrow’s talent now. A few examples include nonprofits that:
- Connect children with experienced mentors. Coding It Forward aims to do this with its Civic Digital Fellowship Program, which works with about 1,000 young technologists across the U.S. to provide fully funded data science and technology internships within the federal government, as well as priceless networking and mentor opportunities with leaders in government and technology.
- Provide access to higher education. The soaring prices of tuition can make pursuing higher education seem out of reach for many children and their families. The National Science Foundation’s CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service program, co-sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Personnel Management, provides scholarships to students pursuing cybersecurity-related degree programs in return for an agreement to serve in government upon graduation for a period equivalent to the length of scholarship, which helps provide educational opportunities for youth as well as solve the skills gap in government.
- Offer the opportunity to make a difference. One of the most motivating forces for anyone entering the workforce is the opportunity to use their skills and abilities to make a difference. The broad global reach of many government organizations provides an opportunity to attract youth who desire to make a social impact. The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) funds the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC), which specializes in STEM, cybersecurity and computer science curriculum design, professional development, and collaboration for grades K-12. Teaching students about the urgent cyberissues facing government encourages youth to pursue this path not only for financial stability, but also for the chance to make a genuine difference in the world.
Juliette Rizkallah is chief marketing officer of enterprise management firm SailPoint. She previously held executive positions at large tech firms including, Oracle, SAP and Check Point Software, and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris (ESCP).