How schools can help protect the nation by filling cybersecurity skills gaps

A nationwide shortage of cybersecurity professionals is a threat to everyone
By: | October 13, 2021
Hanine Salem

Hanine Salem

Businesses and other employers face a critical shortage in cybersecurity professionals. This isn’t just an issue for the companies looking for skilled workers; it’s a problem that affects all technology users—and even the nation’s security. Solving the problem will require the help of school systems in making students aware of cybersecurity as a viable career field.

There are nearly 465,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs nationwide, according to data collected under a federal Commerce Department grant. Of these openings, 36,000 are for public-sector jobs across federal, state and local governments. As The Washington Post reports, the lack of cybersecurity employees makes it harder to protect government data from being stolen by our adversaries and diminishes the government’s ability to protect national and economic security.

While public and private-sector organizations alike are struggling to hire cybersecurity professionals, cyber-attacks are becoming more common—and the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the challenge. As more employees are connecting to enterprise networks from home and collaborating with colleagues and clients online, the opportunities for cyber attacks have multiplied.

In fact, cybercriminals have ransomed millions of dollars from businesses during the pandemic, CBS News reports, and the average cost of a data breach for companies has risen to more than $21,000 per incident. About 5% of successful attacks cost businesses $1 million or more.

Making students aware of cybersecurity best practices and career options can help resolve the urgent shortage that exists within this vital profession. By exposing all students to these concepts, schools can encourage more students to consider cybersecurity as a possible career choice—while also playing an important role in helping to address the troubling lack of diversity within the cybersecurity field.

Infusing cybersecurity awareness into the curriculum gives students of all backgrounds opportunities to explore the profession.

Currently, just 9% of cybersecurity workers self-identify as Black, 4 % as Hispanic, 8% as Asian, and only 1% as American Indian, Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Inspiring more minority students to consider careers in cybersecurity would help close the talent gap while ensuring that the technology workforce is more representative of the general population.

Improving diversity within the cybersecurity field is important not only from a moral perspective but from a security standpoint as well. For instance, it can help strengthen cyber defenses by bringing different skills and divergent ways of thinking to the table, allowing cybersecurity teams to prepare for and defend against techniques and threats they might not have thought about before.

Infusing basic cybersecurity awareness into the high school curriculum can prepare students for the world of work by giving them proper digital etiquette skills, while also making them mindful of cybersecurity as a possible career path. This would ensure that students of all backgrounds have opportunities to explore the profession.

Recognizing the need for this type of training, Novus Consulting Group has developed a Cyber Citizenship Course aimed at students ages 15-18. This flexible online course includes an overview of hacking, including who hackers are, their motives and the assets they seek to acquire.

It covers the psychology of cybercrime, including how cybercriminals use social engineering to exploit human emotions to carry out their attacks; potential vulnerabilities, including ineffective passwords and back-door access through existing Wi-Fi networks; and how to maintain good cyber hygiene through safe passwords, security updates and reducing risky behaviors.

In addition, the course allows students to explore the cybersecurity industry as a potential college degree or professional career path. The dearth of cybersecurity professionals is a nationwide problem that poses a threat to all of us.

As we recognize National Cybersecurity Awareness Month this October, let’s acknowledge the critical role that schools can play in raising awareness of digital citizenship best practices—and also cybersecurity as a worthwhile career option for students.

Hanine Salem is a managing partner at Novus Consulting Group, where she heads the youth development practice. Salem, who has 20 years of experience in the field of public-sector development, previously served as the associate director of the Education Unit at RAND Corporation, where she focused on K-12 and higher-education reform.

Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.