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eLearning Can Help Fill the Cybersecurity Talent Gap

By Cait Etherington
May 06, 2017

On the eve of France’s second round of voting in its current election cycle, the leading centrist candidate announced that his campaign had been hacked. Not surprisingly, the candidate, Emmanuel Macron, immediately drew comparisons to the American election and the nation’s ongoing investigations into hacking. While politicians may be at the center of the some of the most high-profile hacking incidents, in reality, anyone with large amounts of data is at now risk. This is because data is a valuable asset. While there is still a major shortage of cybersecurity experts, there is hope that eLearning can help fill the cybersecurity talent gap.

Assessing the Cybersecurity Talent Gap

A 2015 study by analysts at Frost & Sullivan predicts a 1.5 million shortfall in cybersecurity experts by 2020. Indeed, 45% of hiring managers report struggling to find talent and 62% report that their organizations already are suffering from a shortfall in cybersecurity staff. So where and how will we fill these estimated 1.5 million positions in the coming three years?

computerAn article by Mark van Zadelhoff in this week’s Harvard Business Review suggest that the game plan for finding cybersecurity talent needs to change on multiple fronts. As van Zadelhoff observes, “Security businesses tend to look for people with traditional technology credentials . . . but security is truly everyone’s problem; virtually every aspect of personal and professional data is at risk. So why are we limiting security positions to people with four-year degrees in computer science, when we desperately need varied skills across so many different industries?”

Zadelhoff also astutely observes that “There are no signs that the bad guys are limiting their talent pool — and cybercrime is now a $445 billion business. The average company handles a bombardment of 200,000 security events per day.”  Zadelhoff offers two solutions. First, he notes that we need to become more gender neutral in searches. Comparing cybersecurity to the accounting industry in the 1950s, he notes that to deal with the talent gap, accounting opened up to women. Today, the cybersecurity industry needs to do the same thing. Second, he suggest we embrace a “new collar job” approach, like IBM, and begin to hire people based on raw talent and skills rather than degrees. Of course, this also means scaling up on the job training, and this is where eLearning will no doubt prove essential.

“New Collar” Workers and eLearning

cybersecurityThere were once white collar (office) and blue collar (factory and manual labor) jobs. Now, “new collar” jobs are putting a new spin on this division. In a nutshell, these jobs combine technical skills with knowledge traditionally acquired in higher education and are designed to bring millions of qualified workers into knowledge-based industries, like technology, over the coming two decades. As IBM COE Ginni Rometty explains, “What matters most is relevant skills, sometimes obtained through vocational training.” In most cases, “new collar” employees will have a two-year or associate’s degree when they are hired rather than a four-year degree in a relevant field. Because the workers will be younger and have less formal education, of course, the rest of the training will happen on the job, and this is where eLearning holds great potential to make a difference.

Desk and computerHacking is something that takes place online. For this reason, online training for “ethical hackers,” people who think like hackers but work to protect not steal organizations’ data, is critical. Because there is now a concerted effort to bring nontraditional employees (e.g., people with associate’s degrees or workers with only a high school education who are changing fields) into the cybersecurity industry, eLearning will also prove important. After all, as a flexible way to train workers who are already hired, eLearning is an ideal way to reach employees who may require substantial training but be unable to attend school on a full-time basis.  All signs point to the fact that organizations are already making full use of eLearning when it comes to training cybersecurity specialists.

According to the 2016 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cybersecurity Vendors report, the market for online cybersecurity training is already growing at a rapid pace. The online cybersecurity training market grew more than 55% from 2014 through 2015 and is currently projected to continue growing at a similar rate. Of the vendors included in the Gartner survey, the vast majority (15 of 18) reported year-over-year revenue growth of 25% or higher and multiple vendors reported over 70% growth.