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Why is there such a huge cybersecurity labor shortage right now? What’s the government doing to try to fix it?
The US government faces a dangerous shortage of qualified experts to safeguard vital systems and networks from attack. The federal government is working to solve the cybersecurity labor shortage, but it will struggle if it fails to address pay discrepancies between public and private sector cybersecurity jobs.
Keep reading for insight into the cybersecurity talent shortage.
Where Are All the Cybersecurity Workers?
With 39,000 cybersecurity jobs vacant across US federal agencies, the nation faces a severe cybersecurity labor shortage, which threatens national security by putting critical infrastructure and networks at risk of attack.
Background on Cyber Workers
America’s cybersecurity talent pipeline is in dire straits, with only 69 skilled workers available for every 100 that employers need. In an April Congressional hearing, the FBI director testified that if his entire cyber team focused solely on threats from China, the number of Chinese hackers would still exceed the FBI’s cyber workforce by 50 to 1. The problem is so severe that federal agencies are poaching cybersecurity staff from one another.
The scarcity of cybersecurity professionals has far-reaching implications. The shortage comes amid a growing number of cyberattacks, including the crippling 2021 Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack and the 2020 SolarWinds hack.
Reasons for the Federal Cyber Worker Shortage
Experts say that staffing problems differ slightly for the federal government’s military and civilian divisions: The former struggles to hold onto cyber workers, the latter to recruit and retain them. Factors that hinder their hiring and retention efforts include:
- Demand for workers outpacing supply.
- An employer-employee expectations and skills gap.
- Historically inadequate recruitment efforts. The cybersecurity industry hasn’t done enough to attract diverse candidates, contributing to a perception of the field as inaccessible and inhospitable to women and minorities.
- Low salaries.
- High stress and burnout rates.
The Government’s Response
In July, the White House released its National Cybersecurity Strategy Implementation Plan to grow the nation’s cyber workforce. The initiative encourages federal agencies to prioritize skills-based hiring over certifications in recruitment. Further, it aims to strengthen the cyber talent pipeline by guiding workers into and up through federal cyber roles through:
- Training for individuals interested in entry-level government cyber jobs.
- Ongoing education and training to develop existing federal cyber workers’ skills.
Bolstering this initiative is a recently announced federal initiative to launch hundreds of cybersecurity apprenticeship programs in partnership with the private sector.
Experts say the US’s ability to effectively defend national security amid growing cyber threats relies on its ability to build a robust, adaptive cybersecurity workforce and foster cyber-conscious cultures across agencies—leveraging AI to do it. Toward this end, the government must:
- Continue to prioritize diversity in hiring.
- Consider easing job requirements.
- Foster a culture of ongoing education.
- Continue to build partnerships with the private sector, academia and industry to create internship programs, fund research, and help shape practical curricula to give students valuable real-world abilities and strengthen the cyber talent pipeline.
Finally, experts say that while the White House’s new cybersecurity plan is an important step forward, two things would strengthen it:
- A centrally coordinated federal approach to hiring and pay.
- A clear plan to improve federal cyber pay.
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