The Cybersecurity Skills Gap: Educating the next generation

Guest written by Tony Anscombe, Global Security Evangelist and Industry Partnerships Ambassador at ESET

Technological advancements are increasing rapidly, but the general population’s ability to utilize these new capabilities continues to lag behind. The growing number of recent cybersecurity attacks highlights a second gap; a shortage of skilled workforce in the cybersecurity industry, predicted to reach around 1.8 million workers by 2022.

There are numerous suggestions and ideas about how to close the gap, such as upskilling existing employees skill sets or utilizing automation. But a long-term strategy focused on training and educating the next generation will help to ensure enough people have the right skills for the future.

Children are now growing up in a digital age and should be in an ideal position and better equipped to take on the challenges of cybersecurity when they enter the workforce. This early exposure to the technology and best practices could easily be harnessed to give them a golden opportunity to be trained in the skills needed to fill the gap in the cybersecurity industry. But how do we to attract them into what many consider a geeky industry?

Diversity in the workforce

As with any industry, ensuring that cybersecurity attracts a diverse workforce is important in building a high-performing cybersecurity sector. The number of women in the cybersecurity industry is extremely low, accounting for just 7% of the industry’s workforce in Europe, yet women make up at least 40% of the general workforce in many countries. Attracting more women to the profession will create a more diverse workforce and help to reduce the numbers gap.

Making cybersecurity part of the curriculum

In 2014, Britain became the first G7 country to make computer science a compulsory subject at school – students should be able to write and debug a program by age seven. It’s important that we educate society broadly through a national curriculum that will ensure everyone possesses a certain skill level so that more people go on to develop the necessary expertise. This also give educators the opportunity to identify talent early on and hone in on it. Organizing intensive training for talented youngsters is already taking place with cybersecurity style clubs.

Hard skills to address

Understanding both network and computer basics is integral to giving youngsters a successful foundation in cybersecurity. At a cybersecurity boot camp run for high school students in San Diego, this topic was addressed through a foundation class in network architecture. Instilling these fundamental skills in young people ensures fewer knowledge gaps making us less vulnerable when protecting ourselves from would-be hackers. Workshops on malware, coding and encryption should be included as standard so that young people have a broad range of knowledge and understanding. More specific training, perhaps targeted at young people who demonstrate talent in computer science. It is also important to include other perspectives on cybersecurity, such as law enforcement.

The importance of softer skills

Technical knowledge is, of course, imperative. However communication skills shouldn’t be overlooked and are often thought of as highly important in the industry. While a big topic to address, it’s important to ensure cybersecurity professionals develop the mind-set and moral code required to work effectively in this industry.

The answer to bridging the cybersecurity skills gap is education, not just for potential security experts of the future, but for all — by training the next generation and ensuring everyone has a solid understanding of computer security. There is little doubt that with the right curriculum and opportunities, the brightest and most talented individuals will be attracted to the fantastic opportunities that exist in the cybersecurity industry.