How to close the cybersecurity talent gap

Shutterstock imag (by Benjamin Haas): cyber coded team. 

With the launch of the first-ever Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Strategy earlier this year, the U.S. government will go on a major hiring spree. After landing 3,000 new cybersecurity and IT professionals in the first six months of the current fiscal year, agencies want to bring 3,500 more aboard by the end of January 2017.

Given that the global cybersecurity workforce shortage is expected to reach 1.5 million by 2019, private- and public-sector officials are increasingly under pressure to find candidates with cybersecurity skills. Breaches, of course, represent a constant threat; more than 12.2 million government and military records have been compromised in nearly 55 incidents so far this year, according to the latest research released by the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Federal officials admit that a lack of cybersecurity and IT talent is affecting their ability to protect information and assets, according to a White House summary of the strategy.

"Every day, federal departments and agencies face sophisticated and persistent cyber threats that pose strategic, economic and security challenges to our nation," states the summary, which was issued by U.S. CIO Tony Scott, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel, Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan and Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert.

They added that "addressing these cyber threats has required a bold reassessment of the way we approach security in the Digital Age and a significant investment in critical security tools and our cybersecurity workforce. And these threats demand that we continue to enhance the security of the federal digital infrastructure and improve the ability to detect and respond to cyber incidents as they occur."

The challenge does not simply involve attracting candidates. It also requires effectively onboarding, training, developing, promoting and engaging incoming employees to ensure a lasting, positive impact. To tackle all those areas, organizations are turning to analytics solutions that support two key areas: hiring and workforce planning.

No, the two areas are not the same thing. Here are the distinct, critical functions that each addresses and a look at how analytics could help agencies close the cybersecurity talent gap.

Hiring. Chief human capital officers (CHCOs) and their teams must get more creative than ever to successfully recruit today's cybersecurity professionals, just as they should in filling all vacancies. Candidates are constantly on mobile devices and social media, and agencies need to reach them where they are.

Therefore, agencies should maintain a high-profile and appealing social media presence while taking part in the daily "conversations" that the cybersecurity community is having. Agencies' jobs landing pages and application processes must be mobile-friendly and make it easy to submit personal details and resumes via any device. The job applicant's experience must be top-notch.

Other areas to investigate include the geographic locations of recruits, detailed analyses of skill sets and candidate profiles of those likely to move into the public sector.

Through analytics, agencies can assess their effectiveness in these and other hiring efforts. They can get a sense of whether their social media presence is making positive connections and see how many applicants used mobile channels to respond to agencies' ads. They can also see which candidates are more likely than others to want to work for the federal government.

Then they can evaluate in real time which of the recruiting techniques deliver the biggest payoffs and shift investments accordingly to focus on those that provide the best results.

Workforce planning. Think of workforce planning as a highly strategic, "big picture" initiative in which agencies proactively analyze data about vacancies, recruitment, existing competencies and projected attrition, among other things, and combine them all into a comprehensive roadmap for an agency to anticipate and manage short- and long-term talent needs.

Analytics will enable agencies to stay on top of the trends and make actionable decisions to best prepare for the future. They will be able to forecast exactly when and where the next wave of retirements will occur (and every wave after) so agencies can train younger, promising staffers for those positions well in advance -- or align recruiting efforts to fill them.

Agencies will see how pending market shifts could affect personnel requirements and make adjustments as necessary. They will gain previously unavailable insights into current and projected budget allocations and coordinate the funding seamlessly with workforce planning objectives.

It's encouraging to see that the government is committed to building a cybersecurity workforce that will capably protect U.S. networks, systems and data. But it is a formidable task, and it will grow far more onerous if CHCOs and their teams simply seek to fill empty seats without looking closely at their present and future workforce challenges.

So think of analytics as a tool that will lend the needed vision and empower your agency to take the lead in the cybersecurity talent management race instead of struggling to keep up.

About the Author

Joe Abusamra is vice president of product marketing at Acendre.


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