Reports of an information technology (IT) and cybersecurity skills gap have fostered debate across media, business, and the IT industry itself. Most recently, research from the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC) indicates that the global cybersecurity job skills gap has grown to almost three million. This contributes to concerns around attracting and retaining sufficient skills in the cybersecurity industry, and has highlighted the need for more experienced, passionate, and qualified IT and cybersecurity entrants.
Looking closer, however, it becomes apparent that hiring practices in the IT industry could be improved to attract new entrants to the industry. Beyond a skills gap, employment issues in IT are often shrouded in old-fashioned tradition, standards, and rules. Sometimes harsh, subjective, and even unfair conditions deter new entrants from realising their career dreams in IT.
It’s time the IT and cybersecurity industries opened their employment standards so a greater range of candidates can become eligible for roles. The sector should consider revising its criteria for what makes quality IT professionals, and target a wider range of potential candidates. Not only will this help fill talent shortages, but it will also have an important, resounding effect at a macro level, levelling gender and class inequality in the field.
Australian IT professionals are likely to agree that their businesses are struggling to get new talent through the door. With tens of thousands of IT jobs available, only a fraction have found successful candidates (PDF). IT has long been a field which requires specific levels of university education, degrees, certifications, and qualifications. While these features might provide IT industry hopefuls with important knowledge, they’re often rendered inaccessible to a range of people due to cost, time requirements, and the location of these courses. Additionally, traditional, university-based, or privatised IT courses have historically failed to market themselves towards women.
As long as IT businesses require contenders and employees to obtain expensive university degrees and industry training, offices will continuously hire the same type of employees with similar educational and background experiences, potentially missing out on the extra talent and benefits a transformed and diverse workplace can bring.
Bringing greater numbers of diverse and qualified entrants into the IT sector will require a pragmatic approach, and a cultural change. First, the industry needs to work at enhancing awareness of IT opportunities and fostering an early interest in IT. Easy, fun, and accessible programs for high school students can play a positive role in clearing a path for graduates to move into IT. This can help even out gender disparities in the industry as well, encouraging girls to get involved in IT and technology.
CompTIA currently offers an IT fundamentals course to high school and university students, which provides skills, career paths, and access to IT departments and organisations that are hiring.
It aims to make IT a more accessible, fair, and open industry for all people, including people who might not fit the traditional prerequisites required to work in the field.
Second, IT talent acquisitions teams and employers need to revise their standards for what qualifies minimum education levels for applicants. A prerequisite for getting into IT organisations, particularly on the vendor-side, is that applicants must have an appropriate university degree. While some organisations are beginning to drop this requirement, the industry needs further cultural change.
In general, the IT sector needs to accept and respect a wider range of training and certification outside of the university setting, and appreciate the independent skills applicants can hold, even without a university degree. The IT sector needs to reach out to students early, foster an interest in IT amongst a broad range of people, and judge candidates on their skills, rather than their education backgrounds, for better quality employees.
James Bergl is sales director, Australia/New Zealand, Datto and an executive council member ANZ, CompTIA.