19 Apr 2021

Making cybersecurity careers open to everyone will solve the skills gap

Guest blog by Joanne Tearle from Cisco as part of our #Cyber2021 week.

You’re probably aware of the significant cybersecurity skills gap in the UK, owing to an infamous series of government adverts. But for all the attention garnered by the campaign – intended to encourage youngsters to explore careers in cybersecurity – the issue still remains. 

In fact, 653,000 businesses (48%) are predicted to have a basic skills gap. Defined as: the people in charge of cybersecurity in those businesses who lack the confidence to carry out the basic tasks laid out in the government-endorsed Cyber Essentials, who are not getting support from external cybersecurity providers. 

This presents a challenge for our increasingly digital economy. Especially in the current business landscape, with the pandemic’s accelerating of digital transformation serving as a catalyst for more frequent and more sophisticated cyberattacks. 

In response, it’s time for organisations to attract and develop the diverse talent that’s needed to stay secure. To help you do so, I’ll shine a light on how initiatives like Cisco’s Networking Academy can flip the cybersecurity narrative and shore up our workplaces – and world – for generations to come. 

The challenge: diversity, recruitment and skills shortages     

Beyond the basic skills gap, with common incapacities including setting up firewalls, storing personal data and removing malware, the research also reports that 30% of businesses have more advanced skills gaps, in areas such as penetration testing, forensic analysis and security architecture. 

And although there’s some infrastructure currently in place to support the upskilling of existing staff and new recruits, there isn’t nearly enough. In turn, 35% of employers report vacancies as hard to fill and a further quarter state that such skills gaps have prevented them from achieving business goals. 

One of the major reasons for this is diversity, or rather a lack of. Cybersecurity falls behind other digital sectors on gender diversity, where just 15% of the workforce are female, compared to 28% in the wider digital sector.  

Furthermore, only 16% of the cybersecurity workforce come from ethnic minority backgrounds versus 17% in the wider digital sector. And just 9% identify as neurodivergent – defined as variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions. 

On the surface of things, the solution seems clear: open up your workforce and solve the skills gap. But relatively few firms are adapting their recruitment processes or carrying out any specific activities to encourage applications from diverse groups. 

This is where the problem lies. Some interviewees feel diversity is overemphasised or no worse than other digital sectors, with many more not seeing its potential to help tackle skills gaps and shortages in cyber roles. I think this is short-sighted. 

By opening up our workplaces to anyone, anywhere, we can take huge strides to solving the skills gap. I’m not saying it won’t be without it’s challenges and doing so will require investment and valour, but there’s a world of talent out there, they just need to realise it – which will require more than an empty advertising campaign. 

The solution: people – empowered by technology 

In response to the issues outlined in the report, the government calls for schools, universities and training providers to give young people and training recipients a holistic skillset, covering the relevant technical skills and soft skills that employers demand. 

At Cisco, we’ve been working to this end since 1997 – and in the last quarter of a century we’ve impacted the lives of 12.7 million students by creating a pipeline of technical talent ready to innovate and shape the future. 

But now isn’t the time for resting on laurels and patting ourselves on the back. Cybersecurity professionals are more in demand than ever before, so it’s our collective duty to empower people to broaden their horizons, regardless of their backgrounds, in a career fighting cybercrime. 

It’s no longer enough to just talk about opening up our workplace. To help people understand and realise their potential in cybersecurity, we must get off the fence and take positive action towards promoting diversity and inclusion.  

This could be as simple as showing someone from an underrepresented background this article, or directing employers towards the Networking Academy. Small actions like this can go a long way to changing a life and helping to make our world a better place. 

And don’t just take my word for it. From Gustavo Salazar in Ecuador, to reformed prisoner Luigi Celeste in Italy, Cisco has already helped thousands of people transform their own lives and the lives of others in all corners of the globe. So, what’s to say we can’t do the same in the UK? 

If you’re at least willing to open up your workplace, Cisco can support you to nurture talent with our expert selection of online and instructor-led courses. This can help close the skills gap and fill the 3.5 million global cybersecurity jobs that are still set to stand vacant this year. 

The world needs Cyber Superheroes. Will you answer the call? 

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