For the past several years, security operations teams (SOCs) have consistently reported that one of the biggest obstacles they face is the lack of qualified candidates for open positions. With the increasing volume and sophistication of threats facing organizations, this problem has evolved from an inconvenience to a full-blown epidemic.
According to (ISC)2 research, the shortage of cybersecurity professionals is currently close to 3 million globally and is expected to increase in the years to come. Given the increasingly digital-first orientation of the under-30 population, why is the security community experiencing this crisis of candidates, and more importantly, how can we close the gap?
One of the most important elements used to evaluate candidates is their level of education. Over the past few decades, higher education has gone from being a luxury only a few could afford to an absolute requirement for gainful employment. Unfortunately, even though the job market has emphasized higher education as table stakes for most knowledge-based positions, not all forms of education are viewed as equal.
Typically, a college education is associated with a degree from a four-year institution, which many still view as the only true form of academic achievement. However, when recruiting for information security positions, hiring managers should look beyond these institutions for candidates, and also consider technical and trade schools as talent pools.
Historically, universities have focused on teaching more theoretical concepts. While these are important for developing critical thinking skills, they can leave some graduates underprepared for a hands-on career in information security. Trade schools, on the other hand, have always emphasized hands-on experience, which can prepare graduates to hit the ground running in their new careers. By focusing exclusively on graduates from four-year institutions, organizations are not only shrinking their talent pool but may also miss out on qualified candidates who may not have had the inclination or financial resources to acquire a traditional bachelor’s degree.
Education and experience go hand in hand. Every organization wants to ensure their staff has the tools to perform at a high level. However, many new graduates lack real-world experience, which may prevent quality candidates from applying to fill open positions.
If experience is non-negotiable, organizations should consider partnering with universities, colleges, and trade schools to create programs that will produce graduates with the skill sets they desire. Through internships and work-study programs, organizations can train their prospects in their proprietary processes and procedures, and assess which possess the requisite tools to be brought on full-time, while students gain real-world work experience necessary to become gainfully employed.
One of the most overlooked factors contributing to the shortage of qualified information security professionals is burnout. The lack of staff within security teams and the firehose volume of incidents has forced existing personnel to take on increasing responsibilities and workloads. Often, this will lead to professional burnout and cause morale to drop. Together, low morale and burnout can lead to career train wrecks. It also explains why more individuals are not opting to join the security workforce. However, the industry as a whole can do something about by taking a few simple steps:
Creating a mentorship program within the organization that partners junior security professionals with senior peers provides two important benefits. Junior security analysts gain the experience they need to become more effective team members, while senior staffers get the additional support they desperately need to keep from burning out. In addition, this partnership will improve camaraderie and help boost morale.
Mentorship programs also benefit the organization by demonstrating to potential applicants that they will be valued, and have the opportunity to work in a team-oriented environment. With competition for qualified candidates at an all-time high, creating a culture that promotes professional development through on-the-job training and mentorship will attract applicants who are interested in a long-term career with the organization.
By its very nature, automation helps people do more with less. In SOCs, the automation of business processes can help free up security staff to not only perform more value-added tasks but also allow for a better work-life balance, and reduce the risk of the previously discussed burnout syndrome.
Automation can be used across a wide range of repetitive, early-stage functions such as prioritizing security events and vulnerability assessment findings, creating incident response workflows, and tuning security rulesets.
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Andrea Fumagalli has more than 20 years of experience in information technology and cybersecurity, and works globally with businesses and organizations including Fortune 500 multinational companies and governments on security technology related projects. View Full Bio