GUEST ESSAY: A Memorial Day call to upskill more veterans for in-demand cybersecurity roles

By Jack Koziol

It’s no secret that cybersecurity roles are in high demand. Today there are more than 500,000 open cybersecurity roles in the U.S., leaving organizations vulnerable to cyber threats.

Related: Deploying employees as threat sensors

Meanwhile, 200,000 well-trained and technically skilled military service members are discharged each year.

These individuals have many transferable skills that would make cybersecurity a prosperous civilian career. Yet, there’s still work to be done to make this path more accessible and known among the veteran and transitioning military community.

Fundamentally, cybersecurity professionals identify weaknesses and design systems and processes to protect any organization — government agencies, private companies — from cyberattacks. Veterans have the characteristics that make them ideal for these roles. They’re exceptional at working in high-pressure environments, managing confidential information, solving complex problems and responding systematically.

Better still, cybersecurity jobs offer the individuals who have served our country a fulfilling career. Cybersecurity jobs are always available and offer many options for people who want to work remotely or move around the country for family or career reasons. Plus — they tend to pay well too. The average salary is $116,000 annually plus benefits.

While veterans are well-suited to transition into cybersecurity, there is often a disconnect when raising awareness about these opportunities and outlining paths to entry. Training and certification must become more accessible and hiring criteria must change to encourage veterans to apply for these roles.

For the cybersecurity industry in need of filling mission-critical roles, our responsibility is to make a concerted effort to help place these skilled individuals into jobs.

Koziol

Programs from private companies that focus on hiring veterans, offering free technical training and certification courses and upskilling existing veteran employees into cybersecurity roles could be an answer to our industry’s talent shortage. Including a veteran during the cybersecurity talent recruitment process is one way to create a more inclusive hiring process, as they understand the language, process and skills fellow veterans may have.

This experience can also be helpful when training cybersecurity talent. One example is a training program led by a veteran who once trained military members to prepare for combat. After many years and roles in his civilian life as a cybersecurity professional, he now leads (and built) the entire cybersecurity upskilling and training program for a large government contractor.

Arguably, one of the most critical changes needed will be to adapt hiring practices to help candidates without a traditional college education enter into these critical roles. Stringent job requirements for entry-level cybersecurity positions are some of the biggest hurdles facing those trying to break in — especially veterans who won’t be applying with a traditional college degree or the corporate experience often required.

Loosening these restrictions has been shown to work. A recent survey from Infosec revealed that hiring managers successfully filling cybersecurity roles were considering more inexperienced candidates, actively recruiting diverse candidates and emphasizing attributes like leadership skills, certifications, and communication skills.

Beyond lowering these barriers to entry, a key to placing these individuals in cybersecurity roles is forming partnerships that facilitate hands-on training, certifications, apprenticeships, mentorships and industry connections to help veterans land their first cyber job. And it works.

One student who took a free Security+ Training Boot Camp with Infosec and VetsinTech recently landed a Security Engineer job at a Caterpillar, nearly doubling their previous civilian role salary (as a scientist). Another is using their cybersecurity training as part of a veterans scholarship to advance their career as a law enforcement detective and spearhead the department’s first dedicated cybercrime unit.

These stories show that partnerships between government, private and public are essential to guide veterans into cybersecurity roles with adequate training, certifications, professional connections and opportunities they need to break into the industry.

Many government and non-profit organizations like VetJobs and VetsinTech are doing just this. They provide free cybersecurity training and career development opportunities to transitioning service members, veterans, national guardsmen, reservists and military spouses.

As a security training provider, Infosec has formed partnerships with both of these organizations to provide hands-on certification training to veterans. No matter your organization’s size or type, I encourage you to reach out to them and see how your organization can collaborate to fill these gaps.

To stay ahead of the ever-changing landscape of cyber threats, we must think differently about hiring and training talent. After veterans break into our industry, they often serve as some of the most invaluable cybersecurity employees and leaders.

This is a call to upskill our country’s veterans into the cybersecurity roles we so desperately need.

About the essayist: Jack Koziol is the founder, SVP and GM of Infosec Institute, a cybersecurity education company. He is the author of The Shellcoder’s Handbook. When he’s not keeping the world safe by helping organizations educate their employees, he tries to get his three children to eat their breakfast and get to school on time.

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