19 Apr 2021

How can we make cyber security a more attractive industry to capture and retain diverse talent?

Guest Blog: Michelle Freel,  IBM Security Commercial Manager as part of our #Cyber2021 week.

We all have a responsibility in the industry to attract and retain a more diverse range of talent and build the cyber skills of the future. There are great initiatives towards this objective, such as CyberDay4Girls, CyberFirst, Women in Security, SaluteMyJob (re-training veterans), P-TECH and Open P-TECH. What other initiatives should be implemented today to fill the job vacancies of tomorrow?

Growing up I never imagined I would now have a career in cyber security. I suspect that’s true for a lot of us, but the opportunities that this industry offers are vast and exciting. There is an estimated global cyber security skills gap of 4.07 million vacancies, as reported by the (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study 2019, so we need to consider how we open up this opportunity to people, just like me, who never imagined a career in cyber security.

Eight years ago, I took the plunge and joined IBM Security, using transferrable skills in business management, delivery management and sales. Whilst I had a background in Information Technology, I didn’t have a background in cyber. The skillset I had was welcomed with open arms and, from there, I used my passion for learning and grew my knowledge and understanding of security.

Today, everyone needs to be more open about considering employing people from diverse backgrounds and allowing them the opportunity to bring their diverse, unique experiences and outlook to this industry. There needs to be a mindset change from both us, as potential recruiters, and from potential candidates, if we are going to fill the skills gap. So how can we open up opportunities? 

Working in partnership with SaluteMyJob, IBM offer free courses for ex-military veterans to retrain them in cybersecurity by delivering training courses on QRadar, I2, cyber security fundamentals and dedicated pathways. To date,  500+ veterans have been trained via this program.

With the objective of empowering employees and attracting talent, IBM created WISE “Women in Security Excelling”, an internal group focused on education, mentoring, youth and industry outreach.

IBM has also partnered with Protection Group International (PGI), who launched its Women in Cyber programme,  a career conversion initiative aimed at retraining women from various (and often non-technical) backgrounds, for a career in the cyber security industry, four of whom are now thriving within IBM.

There are other angles which can and should be considered too. Neurodiversity has come to the fore more recentlyIBM is driving a global series of programmes around this area. In December last year IBM UK launched targeted hiring programmes for those with Neurodiverse challenges and specific hiring for cyber roles.

Perhaps we also need to get people to really question why they wouldn’t consider a career in cybersecurity. They should review the skills they have and consider those that are transferrable to the cyber industry, such as strong communication skills, problem solving, relationship building, team working and adaptability. The other more technical skills needed can be learnt. By doing that we could bring more diversity to the industry.  

We also need to focus on growing awareness of cyber careers in the younger generations, as a way to ensure a steady flow of diverse people joining the industry in the longer term.  They need to see Cyber as a future career path in the same way they would view “Accountant, Architect or Lawyer” as potential career options. Within IBM there are great initiatives in place for school age children and young adults such as the following:

  • CyberDay4 Girls: A global IBM initiative which aims to promote cybersecurity as a career option for secondary school girls (11-15 years). IBM volunteers deliver workshops, where girls learn how to protect their online identities, are introduced to the Internet of Things, engage in activities such as basic threat modelling and have an opportunity to hear from experts about what it is like to work in the security industry.
  • P-TECH: Programme in schools to enable students aged 14-20 yrs with cybersecurity pathways and other skills, to be work-ready.
  • Open P-TECH: Free open digital learning platform for young people, including cybersecurity courses with industry-recognised badges.
  • CyberFirst: IBM is a partner for the NCSC CyberFirst programme, aiming to identify and develop future UK cybersecurity professionals (ages 11-17 year olds)

To summarise, we all need to do our best to help people retrain, look at how to attract diverse backgrounds, and focus on awareness and education within the younger generations.

What other initiatives are being implemented or should be implemented today to fill the current vacancies and those of tomorrow?

Dan Patefield

Dan Patefield

Programme Head, Cyber and National Security, techUK

Charlie Wyatt

Programme Assistant, techUK

Jill Broom

Programme Manager, Cyber Security & Central Government, techUK

Sam Wyatt

Sam Wyatt

Programme Manager, Defence and Cyber Security, techUK