Look to ex-military for cyber skills

James Riley
Editorial Director

Australia is in the midst of a cyber skills shortage, with available positions far outstripping the numbers of people who can fill them. The continuing debate around 457 visas and offshoring exacerbates this issue, but the fact is that Australia might be going about remedying its skills shortage the wrong way.

According to the Australian Information Security Association’s (AISA) Cyber Skills Shortage Study 2016, is scathing about this issue. It said that employers are reluctant to fill entry level positions, and that businesses are looking for people with existing skills, rather than training the right people to fill the vacancies.

Steve Ingram, PwC’s Asia Pacific Cyber Lead agrees with this outlook and said that it’s possible to teach anyone cyber skills. The challenge in finding the right people has more to do with personality and aptitude, than it does with finding people with pre-existing cyber security skills.

“I can teach anyone tech skills,” he said. “It might seem harder to get older generations to embrace technology, but they have already shown they can through their use of social media and similar things.”

The real barrier to solving Australia’s skills gap is finding people with the right aptitude-  people who are going to work in cyber security need to have the right communications abilities, they need to have EQ, and the ability to bring multiple elements together to solve complex issues into a single stand-alone problem statement.

“This skill set is harder to teach,” he told a Cyber Leaders roundtable hosted by PwC in Melbourne recently. “When I recruit, it comes down to aptitude, adaptability and attitude, more than their ability with technology.”

Mr Ingram is also bullish about looking outside traditional technology employment pathways, and finding people who have the attributes he values in different areas. In particular, recruiting from the military and police are is an area that is ripe for filling Australia’s cyber skills shortage.

“I have people from defence on my team,” he said. “They speak the language, they understand, and they already have security clearances. They have great skills, they are well-trained and they are ready to embrace the private sector world.”

According to Mr Ingram, the Australian military is looking to fill 900 new cyber roles over the next three years, and he said that although this will initially put pressure on the market, in the long term it will create a pool of very talented people.

He said there are some special adaptations that people in the military need to make, but those adaptations are not a great leap for people who are already working in an environment that prizes adaptability.

“They are moving from a structured hierarchy to an environment where the chain of command is shorter and there is a flatter structure,” he said.

“They have to come to an understanding that you don’t need to chase every rabbit down every hole. Closing out one threat vector or getting one bad actor is enough.”

Military and ex-law enforcement also need to come to terms that the skills they have are special, and of great value in the private sector.

Mr Ingram said that when you are in defence or law enforcement, you’re surrounded by people with skills similar to yours, and you think that everyone can do the job. That’s not the case.

“It’s not until you step outside the environment of law enforcement or defence that you realise you have great skills,” he said. “You have the ability to work under pressure, and in the line of danger, and those are things that not everyone has.”

Along with military and law enforcement, Mr Ingram said that TAFE institutions are also prime candidates for training people to address Australia’s cyber skills shortage.

They can provide qualifications for people who don’t necessarily need degrees to keep Australia, and Australian companies safe.

“If you have your eyes on the glass you don’t necessarily need a degree,” he said. “With TAFE, you can have people in the workforce sooner, and they can learn as they progress from entry level positions, developing professional skills and academic qualifications as they go.”

PwC is a valued supporter of InnovationAus.com, and was a strategic partner of the ‘Cyber Security: The Leadership Imperative’ forum that was held in Melbourne on October 26.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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