Main image of article How Military Service Can Align with a Cybersecurity Career

The cybersecurity industry continues to wrestle with a skills shortage that spans globally. Though the gap has decreased from 4 million to 3.1 million since last year, the 2020 (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study found that more than half (56 percent) of IT and security professionals feel that cybersecurity staff shortages are putting their organizations at risk. There are several reasons why this gap exists, including the difficulty to attract diverse talent into the field of cybersecurity. 

The cybersecurity space can expand its ranks by looking to individuals who do not have the traditional IT backgrounds and traditional career pathway that an organization typically looks for. As Memorial Day approaches and the nation’s thoughts naturally turn to the armed forces, it’s an appropriate time to consider how to thank our men and women in uniform in a concrete way. Veterans returning to civilian life are often well-suited to the cybersecurity field, which can offer a wealth of opportunity. 

The Gap and the Opportunity

The cybersecurity profession requires a specific kind of expertise that exceeds the typical networking and programming skills other IT fields require. One of the biggest challenges is that there are few resources available to prepare individuals with the kinds of hands-on training that’s necessary for a cybersecurity career. Colleges and universities are doing their best, but book knowledge often lacks practical application and can become obsolete quickly due to the rapid pace of technology change. As a result, individuals ranging from university students to computer engineers to veterans transitioning back into civilian life tend to follow other career paths. 

This lack of support limits the pool of potential candidates available to fill critical positions within IT teams. The resulting skills gap makes hiring trained cybersecurity professionals a significant challenge, adding to a growing list of concerns about ensuring end-to-end security and business continuity.

However, there’s a silver lining to this challenge for career seekers, and in particular, those aforementioned veterans transitioning back into civilian life. There are a number of aspects of cybersecurity for which veterans have shown to be particularly well-suited. And yet, veterans are often overlooked when it comes to hiring.

The Veteran Opportunity

In the U.S. alone, about 200,000 service members transition to civilian life each year, according to the Department of Defense. These veterans are entering the civilian workforce with an average of 15 years of training and experience under their belts. As a result, many of them are transitioning with unique skillsets that make them ideal candidates for careers as cybersecurity professionals.

And if you’re reading this and you’re a veteran, then you likely know all too well that it can be a struggle to find civilian employment. Part of the problem may be that veterans do not know how military training could apply to a civilian job. However, your military experience—which often includes working with high-tech tools—has developed in you qualities like situational awareness, an understanding of chain of command and the ability to work under immense pressure. All of these qualities complement the skills needed for a career in cybersecurity.

In addition, veterans have been trained in teamwork, leadership, service and getting the job done no matter what. They typically have an operations-oriented mindset, which is very much applicable, and needed, adding value to any cybersecurity team. As an added bonus, some of these individuals also possess security clearances, which are not only expensive for private organizations to obtain and maintain but can also take up to 18 months to obtain.

What Organizations Can Do

Employers have a major cybersecurity skills gap on their hands, but there are also hugely untapped resources available. In fact, there are organizations working hard to develop and champion dynamic veterans’ programs designed to help military veterans make the transition into the cybersecurity industry. 

By providing candidates with hands-on training, mentoring, professional networking opportunities and direct connections to an ecosystem of partner employers, programs like these can support veterans and help close the skills gap. 

A New Approach

When the standard approaches have failed, it’s time to try a new one. The typical candidate pools are drying up in the cybersecurity field, due both to demand and to lack of adequate hands-on training. Though progress has been made to shrink the cybersecurity skills gap, the demand only increases. Lack of skilled talent puts organizations and their data at greater risk.

That’s why it’s time to look beyond the usual suspects, as it were, and consider veterans as a viable source of quality candidates. Thousands move into civilian life each year, and they come with an operational mindset and many qualities that make them a good fit for the cybersecurity industry. Companies can build their own mentoring program or partnering with organizations that have programs in place to ensure that veterans get the essential training and networking resources they need for a successful career in cybersecurity.

Sandra Wheatley is senior vice president, threat intelligence, customer marketing and influencer communications atFortinet.