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The shortage of cybersecurity workers: a boom for women and career changers?

With news of more cybersecurity threats reported every day, it should come as no surprise that the cybersecurity job market is booming. Companies of all sizes, in all sectors, are desperate to hire people who can protect their valuable data and networks from hackers and other dangers. Consider some of these recent statistics:

  • Currently, there are more than 200 000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S., according to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Data.
  • Cybersecurity job listings have increased 74% since 2011.
  • Cisco reports that the number of cybersecurity job openings globally has topped 1 million, and that number is expected to increase to 6-million in the next four years.
  • By 2020, there will be a shortfall of more than 1.5-million cybersecurity workers.

Granted, these numbers account for cybersecurity jobs at all levels, from entry level through executive, and include jobs outside of the U.S., but the conclusion is inescapable: Cybersecurity expertise is in demand, and for anyone looking for a lucrative career in a field with stability and plenty of opportunities for growth, cybersecurity has a great deal of potential.

In order to fill more of the open roles in cybersecurity, many companies have begun actively recruiting both women and career changers. Women especially have been traditionally underrepresented in the world of cybersecurity, but thanks to several programs from security professional organizations, security companies, and major universities, that could change drastically in the near future.

Solving the shortage

With such a significant shortage on the horizon, many organizations are looking for ways to attract a greater number of qualified applicants. For example, many universities have begun offering cybersecurity degree programs and are actively recruiting even high school students to begin training for cybersecurity careers.

Other companies have started loosening some of the background check requirements for otherwise well-qualified security experts, at least in the public sector. For example, many companies have eliminated hiring restrictions based on marijuana usage. While the federal government will not hire anyone who has used marijuana within the previous three years or any illegal drugs in the previous 10, many private sector employers don’t have such stringent restrictions. Other recruitment strategies include cross-training employees from other IT functions to work in cybersecurity and increasing pay and benefits.

However, while making it easier to get into the cybersecurity field is helping ease some of the shortage, many companies are also recruiting from a largely untapped source: Women. Women are underrepresented in IT overall, thanks in large part to the male-dominated “hacker culture.” Several new initiatives are designed to help change that, such as the (ISC)2 Foundation’s scholarship program, which offers up to $40,000 in scholarships to women seeking cybersecurity training.

Cisco has also committed to creating more opportunities for women’s success, developing the Cisco Empowered Women’s Network, a network of Cisco partners and employees devoted to improving career opportunities for women in IT. Other companies are developing sponsorship and mentoring programs to help encourage women and give them skills and tools necessary to overcome gender bias and succeed in their career.

Shifting to a cybersecurity career

Regardless of your gender, if you are interested in a career in cybersecurity, you can move in that direction with a few smart moves.

  1. Be Cognizant of eligibility requirements. Yes, many companies are loosening the requirements to fill cybersecurity jobs, but they aren’t doing away with them entirely. Keep in mind that anything you do, both online or off, could affect your chances of getting a job. Review the requirements for your dream job or company, and behave accordingly.
  2. Get experience. Even if you aren’t currently working in cybersecurity, you can build a portfolio through internships, job shadowing, and volunteer projects.
  3. Get trained. Taking college level courses can put you on the path to a degree, but completing IT courses online gives you a foundation to take on more responsibility at work and develop your portfolio.
  4. Get certified. Online IT courses can also prepare you for certification exams. Successfully earning IT certifications is generally a requirement for most cybersecurity jobs; without them, you could be out of the running for the best positions. Figure out which certifications are most commonly needed and start studying.
  5. Build your network. Establishing professional relationships helps show your interest in the field, and gives you gain access people who can help you advance. Join professional organizations to learn about industry news and trends.

While some companies are looking at technical solutions to solve the employee shortage, there is no doubt that opportunities for women and career changers exist in the realm of cybersecurity. As the barriers come down, expect to see a more diverse applicant pool — and more effective security — in the future.

Feature image: Nguyen Hung Vu via Flickr