Cyber security’s big threat? Finding the talent

Writing for Defence Online, Melanie Jones, Product Director for cyber security portfolios at Global Knowledge, examines the skills shortage in cyber security professionals.

Recent cybersecurity surveys from Cybersecurity Insiders and IBM agree that the main security-related concerns for businesses are data loss and leakage, and the effect they have on an organisation’s bottom line and reputation.  The organisations that experience data breaches, no matter their size, will feel the financial impact of the breach for years. According to IBM’s calculations, data breaches cost businesses around £125 for each lost or stolen record.  Another thing that the recent surveys, along with other industry reports, agree upon is that the way to address this is by improving the skills and experience of the workforce.  

Each year, Global Knowledge conducts a survey of its own. The IT Skills and Salary Report is the largest worldwide study, taking in the feedback of 12,200 IT professionals from 159 countries.  This year, in our 12th annual report, it was cybersecurity and cloud skills that dominated the key findings.  More than two-thirds of decision-makers reported a gap between their team’s skill levels and the knowledge required to achieve organisational objectives. This is the second year that this skills gap has increased, leading to higher levels of employee stress, delays in development of critical projects and loss of revenue.  When asked where the gaps exist, 81% of IT decision-makers said their cyber skills shortage is a medium or high risk to their business, and that cybersecurity remains the most difficult tech specialism in which to find qualified talent. 

The demand for IT skills is already pushing up salaries. IT professionals earned, on average, £4,000 more this year compared to 2018, with a premium on cloud, cyber security, IT architecture and project management skills. The average global salary for an IT professional is £71,895 – the highest it’s been in the 12 years that Global Knowledge has prepared its IT Skills and Salary Report. Jobs in cloud computing are commanding the highest salaries. They are 29% larger than the global average, followed by IT architecture and design, programme management and cybersecurity. For Europe, Middle East and Africa, IT professionals in large organisations (5,000+ people) had a 23% salary bump over mid-sized companies. 

With qualified talent hard to find and a bigger price to pay for those who have the experience to deliver in the crucial areas of AI and cybersecurity, what will companies do to bridge the gap? Many organisations will have little option but to turn to temporary staff and interim managers to cover the shortages. But only 31% of ITDM want to bring in contractors or hire additional staff, according to our survey, given the difficulties that can come when integrating temporary staff and the knowledge transfer needed to be successful.  

In June, during London Tech Week, the Government announced a £1.2 billion investment into the UK by global tech companies.  With a pledge of funding for 2,500 places on AI and data conversion courses from 2020, it is clear that AI skills are seen as vital if the UK hopes to remain Europe’s largest tech hub.  The Government’s push to address skills shortages in cloud, AI and cybersecurity needs to remain a priority over the next few years.  Post-Brexit things aren’t expected to get easier when hiring European staff may prove complicated, only exacerbating the chasm between skill requirements and availability.  According to (ISC)2, there could be up to 1.8 million information security-related roles unfilled worldwide by 2022.  In Europe, the shortfall is projected to be about 350,000, with the UK’s share of unfilled cyber security jobs expected to be around 100,000.   

Other business leaders are planning to get more out of existing employees to address the effects of talent shortages. Effective training that is part of an enterprise-wide plan benefits the company as well as the individual. Training can help companies retain staff and increase staff loyalty as most employees appreciate development opportunities.  88% of Global Knowledge survey respondents took part in some training activity in the last 12 months. There remains a concern that training takes staff away from their work and eats into the department’s budgetHowever, the impact of skills gaps on the productivity of IT staff has a greater detrimental impact.  64% of IT leaders in the survey said that skills gaps cost their team three to eight hours a week in productivity. Employees at all levels find it harder to do their jobs. Skills gaps are increasingly a significant factor in project delays and failures. 

Cyber security remains in the news, with high profile hacks and data leaks reported daily. Some of the world’s leading cybersecurity solution providers have recently been hacked themselves.  While technology is part of the solution, to really protect an organisation from cyber-attack, companies need people to keep the systems safe. While the lack of professionals with knowledge and experience of cybersecurity continues to outstrip demand, the risks remain.  

To learn more about cyber security and how your business can stay protected from threats, visit the Cyber Essentials Online website.

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