Looking Beyond the Standard Pipeline

It’s the constant hot topic in cyber. How do we fill roles when there’s a shortage of cyber talent? Before losing hope, we should think again. Cyber leaders, along with their recruiters, need to take a second look at what is really needed in today’s cybersecurity professionals and invest in areas for long-term gains.

I maintain that there shouldn’t be a talent shortage. Our new digitally-native generation has technology written in their DNA. They’ve embraced technology, and we need to harness that. Let’s develop new pipelines and rework job descriptions so we stop shutting out so many worthy candidates.

Cybersecurity is not the first stop for a person who’s starting their career. Degrees in cyber are now available, but they don’t give students the experience they need to understand various technologies that are necessary to be a good cybersecurity professional.

I often recommend that aspiring cyber professionals learn technology first to acquire the building blocks that make for good technologists who later become really great cyber professionals. Then, come into cyber with a technology that they’ve mastered and can use as part of the work that they’re doing relative to cyber.

While a degree seems like a good prerequisite, it almost isn’t. Some people just have a passion for technology or are just wired to be technologists. They can pick up the skills very quickly. We need to look beyond our standard, traditional pipelines for people with different backgrounds and ethnicities to bring in diversity of thought. 

As an industry, we need to work on building the talent pipeline early. We need to collectively support programs at the middle school and high school levels to support technology and STEM careers. We need to start early, especially if we’re going to bring in women, because women typically are discouraged from taking science and math early in life. We also need to reach women frequently to encourage them to take the right classes that will lead to a technology or STEM career. We must raise awareness among women of the many career options that exist.

Journeyman programs that offer on-the-job training make for a really good way to bring people into the field, without going the traditional college route. We need well-rounded individuals who have excellent critical thinking skills, who can problem solve, and who have a passion for the work they’re doing. This makes the secret sauce to a successful career in technology and in cyber.

At Rockwell Automation, we are embracing the diversity from multiple aspects to open opportunities for all and meet business objectives. We’re working with an organization, CAI Neurodiverse Solutions, that trains people with autism to work with a specific technology. With  advanced skills in organization, standardization and consistency, they brought a level of rigor and excellence to their roles.

I’m also talking to a company that’s building a social media platform for people of diverse backgrounds that can look for the right technology opportunities for them. That opens up the pipeline, too, and gives organizations more options. 

Job descriptions are another contributor to the talent problems we’re having. They’re written with bias, with mandatory requirements on experience and skills that make the roles look unattainable, so we’re not getting candidates to even apply. We need to take the bias out of job descriptions and focus on outcomes.

Obviously a good job description will require certain skill sets. But I think it needs to leave room for some interpretation. Instead of saying the candidate needs a bachelor’s degree in the following areas, we need to use more generalized terms if possible that focus on what the role is trying to achieve, and give more weight to soft skills. “We’re looking for a good problem solver who can do X, Y and Z.” Or, “We’re looking for experience in programming languages” in general.

Our focus should be, do you have good learning dexterity because people can be trained.

The good news is many new professionals already have the necessary base skills. By reimagining how we look at careers in cyber, we can overcome the talent shortage.