Young adults unaware of infosec job opportunities

Young professionals don't know about different career opportunities in cyber security -- which isn't good news for the talent and skills gap

Young adults unaware of infosec job opportunities
Credit: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Information security may be perceived as a hot market, but young professionals aren't flocking to the field because they don't know about the opportunities, according to a new survey by the National Cyber Security Alliance and Raytheon. 

Information security professionals frequently talk about the talent and skills gap, where there are plenty of security jobs but not enough people to fill them. Young adults between 18 to 26 years of age are not aware about cyber security career opportunities and what the jobs entail, the survey found. And young women tend to be less interested and informed about the field than men.

"Millennials aren't acutely aware of cyber security job opportunities, but they are generally interested," the study said.

Sixty-two percent of the adults in the survey said no teacher, guidance counselor, or another adult ever mentioned the possibility of entering the information security field. When 79 percent of respondents say they have never spoken to a practicing cyber security professional or are unsure if they have, then the lack of awareness makes more sense.

"Many simply do not know that the career field is an option," the survey said.

A little less than a quarter of the respondents said they have not sought out cyber security programs and activities because they did not think they were qualified. This is where high school and secondary schools come in, but a gap exists there, too. The survey found that 69 percent of young adults entered college and the workforce believing their high school or secondary school had not offered them the classes or skills necessary for a cyber-related career.

That figure is distressing, considering there were over 238,157 postings for security-related jobs in 2014, and organizations struggle to find qualified candidates to fill those jobs.

Nearly 40 percent said they want more information about cyber security careers. "The survey has shown that millennials would likely pursue a cyber security career if they are aware of what the job entails," the study found.

The gap is even more pronounced when gender comes into play. About half of the men in the survey said they were aware of what cyber security jobs entailed, compared to a third of the women. A little more than half, or 52 percent, of young women in the survey said cyber security programs and activities weren't available to them, compared to 39 percent of young men.

"There is a gap within the gap, with females less interested and informed," the survey found.

Worldwide, women in secondary and high school levels are not getting the same level of guidance about cyber security careers as men. Three-quarters of women said their high school and secondary school computer classes did not offer security skills, compared to 67 percent of men.

Women are also less likely to find mentors who encourage them to look at information security careers, as 77 percent of women in the U.S. said guidance and career counselors did not discuss the security field. For men, the figure was closer to 67 percent.

"Not only are we missing obvious opportunity to remediate a global shortfall of cyber security workers, but we're also seeing the problem compounded by leaving women behind when it comes to cyber security education, programs, and careers," said Valecia Maclin, program director of cyber security and special missions at Raytheon.

Zogby Analytics conducted the Securing Our Future: Closing the Cyber Talent Gap study between July 29 and Aug. 10. The survey collected responses from 3,871 young adults between 18 and 26 in Australia, Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

A recent report by ISC2 and Booz Allen found that one of the reasons entry-level cyber security jobs are so difficult to fill is because the requirements are higher than what would be expected for a typical entry-level role. When organizations expect more job experience and skills for entry-level jobs, young adults are less inclined to purse those opportunities, especially if they already feel unprepared for the job.

There was a glimmer of good news, as 38 percent of young adults in the Raytheon study said they have have competed in cyber security contests or looked for internships, scholarships, and mentoring programs in cyber security. "Young adults say they want careers that use skills required for cyber careers," the report said.

The survey showed that young professionals don't know about opportunities in the security field and aren't receiving the kind of education they need to perform the jobs. The educators can focus on developing new courses and provide information about career opportunities. Current professionals can set up mentoring and job shadowing programs.

Young adults would be more interested in cyber security professions and be better prepared to take on those roles if they had the information about the types of jobs available in the industry. With online breaches and attacks hitting major organizations every day, organizations can't afford to miss out on potential employees. Increasing visibility and awareness is only the first step.

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