Next generation of cybersecurity execs won’t come from the US

Although the market predicts that there will be a gap in cybersecurity professionals in the coming years, US institutions and enterprises are doing nothing to close the gap.
16 May 2018

Surveys have shown that few K-12 students are considering cybersecurity as a career. Source: Shutterstock

Given all the talk about the growing importance of cybersecurity and the skills shortage in the future, you’d expect more colleges teaching and even promoting classes in cybersecurity.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, enterprises and institutions are doing almost nothing when it comes to educating students about the importance and value of an education in cybersecurity.

As a result, millennials and post-millennials are not very likely to pursue a career in cybersecurity, a report shows.

The figures, released early last week, were derived from a US survey of 524 high school students who were quizzed about their intentions on graduation. Of the 82 percent intending to go to college, the range of IT-based careers in mind included:

  • Cybersecurity, 9 percent.
  • Information technology, 11 percent.
  • Scientific research, 13 percent.
  • Engineering, 15 percent.
  • Software development, 21 percent.
  • Video game development, 33 percent.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the ages of those who responded to the survey, most considered themselves technologically-savvy, with 41 percent casting themselves as early adopters.

From a generation which has grown up with tech literally in its hands, the choice therefore of careers with at least an element of technology filled 14 of the 16 career fields named – although even paths such as design and architecture today involve significant use of computers daily.

The popularity of gaming explains the choice of a career in game design and development, while cybersecurity’s poor showing perhaps derives from the fact that the vast majority (69 percent) had never taken a class in school which covered the subject. Additionally, only 17 percent said that someone in their family had ever worked in the cybersecurity field.

When asked why they wouldn’t ever consider a cybersecurity role at any stage in their lives, the reasons included:

  • Not knowing enough about the subject, 37 percent.
  • Lack of confidence in own ability or education, 28 percent and 21 percent respectively.
  • Worries about the perceived number of certifications required, 15 percent.

Across the board in the high school sector, therefore, it seems there is a need for more early education on data security methods such as penetration testing. Despite 48 percent of the respondents were part of a STEM program of some sort during K-12 education, 69 percent had never had a class covering any aspect of digital protection.

Careers in STEM are currently male-dominated, and at high-school age, the signs are that trend may continue:

  • Boys are three times more likely than girls to plan to study engineering at degree level.
  • Twice as many boys plan to take mathematics, science, and IT.

However, the same survey contains some information to the contrary. Among the high school students surveyed:

    • Girls game online just as much as boys.
    • More girls consider themselves early adopters of technology than boys.
    • More girls have the very latest tech like VR/AR in their households and are more likely to have used it.

In cybersecurity specifically (among the small percentage who expressed a desire for a white-hat career), 57 percent of girls thought they were likely to find such a career exciting, compared to 40 percent of boys.

The long-established tendency for girls to wish to progress to college to study any subject, it is widely hoped that the current gender bias in STEM careers will hopefully change in coming years.

Working in Mission Control for a mission to the International Space Station. Click for story. Source: Dr Mamta Patel Nagaraja.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), neural networks and intelligent bots are the talk of most industries at present, and cybersecurity companies are no exceptions.

But the widespread use of the technology will not be lowering the number of roles in cybersecurity on the jobs market any time soon – humans will still play pivotal cybersecurity roles for the foreseeable future.

In fact, a report from last year stated that by 2020, there will be a global shortage of 1.8 million cybersecurity personnel. If the numerous studies comparing single-sex and co-ed classes are anything to go by, a more mixed-gender IT environment will be highly beneficial to all. For girls with an eye to the future, cybersecurity could be a highly rewarding career goal.

Above and beyond gender issues, it seems apparent that K-12 educators need to plan for cybersecurity to become a significant presence on curricula. It will be a while before the ‘bots are capable of protecting our critical systems from malicious activity. Until then, suitably qualified humans of any variety will need to be our guards of the digital front-line.