U.S. says cybersecurity skills shortage is a myth

Government says its own job cybersecurity job fair this summer was a success

cybersecurity shield and gear image
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The U.S. government has released what it claims is myth-busting data about the shortage of cybersecurity professionals. The data points to its own hiring experience.

In October 2015, the U.S. launched a plan to hire 6,500 people with cybersecurity skills by January 2017, according to White House officials. It had hired 3,000 by the first half of this year. As part the ongoing hiring effort, it held a job fair in July.

At the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), "We set out to dispel certain myths regarding cybersecurity hiring," wrote Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer at DHS in a blog post Monday.

One myth is this: "There is not a lot of cyber talent available for hire," said Bailey. "Actually, over 14,000 people applied for our positions, with over 2,000 walking in the door. And while not all of them were qualified, we continue to this day to hire from the wealth of talent made available as a result of our hiring event.

"The amount of talent available to hire was so great, we stayed well into the night interviewing potential employees," said Bailey.

The experience of the U.S. government seems counter to what industry studies say is actually going on.

For instance, a report released one day before the government's job fair in July, Intel Security, in partnership with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), pointed to a "talent shortage crisis" of cybersecurity skills.

David Foote, co-founder and chief analyst at Foote Partners, is skeptical of the government's findings, and says there's really no unemployment among people with cybersecurity skills, "so why would they go to a job fair?"

In particular, asked Foote, why would someone take a government job that will pay less than a beltway consulting firm?

The salary for a senior cyber security specialist, with five or more years experience, in the Washington D.C. metro area is is $132,837, said Foote.

The salary range for an IT specialist in cybersecurity ranges from about $65,000 to to $120,000, depending on skills, experience and educational attainment.

Foote said the appeal of getting a security clearance may have motivated some to apply for a government job. A security clearance can open up subsequent private sector jobs.

But Foote suspects that the U.S. is focusing on hiring people it can train, and not on hiring someone with experience and who would command much higher salaries than can government offer.

In cybersecurity, experience is critical, said Foote. "Cybersecurity is something you have to do, you have a develop an instinct and you only do that with hands on," he said.

This story, "U.S. says cybersecurity skills shortage is a myth" was originally published by Computerworld.

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