Op-ed: How the US can finally close the cyber workforce gap

·5-min read
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 25: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting about cybersecurity in the East Room of the White House on August 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. Members of the Biden cabinet, national security team and leaders from the private sector attended the meeting about improving the nation's cybersecurity.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 25: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting about cybersecurity in the East Room of the White House on August 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. Members of the Biden cabinet, national security team and leaders from the private sector attended the meeting about improving the nation's cybersecurity. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Wally Adeyemo is U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury.

Penny Pritzker is chair and founder of PSP Partners and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

For many Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic brought their work into the digital sphere to a far greater extent than ever before—from classrooms to courtrooms to boardrooms, and many others. The shift to online work has increased our economy’s reliance on secure and dependable technology. Maintaining America’s economic competitiveness will require continued investment in the tools needed to compete in the digital economy and the workforce to build and protect these tools from online threats.

The events of the past year have demonstrated that digital opportunities come with digital risks. From gas pipelines shuttered by ransomware to life-saving chemotherapy treatments disrupted by cyber intrusions, we have seen that the same technology systems that enable the modern economy also expose our companies and workers to new forms of attack. Without the resources to prevent and combat these threats, our ability to compete on equal footing with our rivals could be imperiled.

We see a clear opportunity to address these risks while enhancing our economy’s ability to build back better: investing in America’s cyber workforce. These jobs are one example (though far from the only one) of the types of jobs President Biden is committed to creating. They are well-paying jobs—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a cybersecurity analyst is $103,000. And these jobs are available in numerous regions, not just a few urban centers, offering opportunity to Americans across the country.

A shortage of skilled workers

Unfortunately, we face a major talent shortage when it comes to our cyber workforce.

Today, there are approximately 465,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs across the country, suggesting a mismatch between the demand for cybersecurity skills and the ability of our workforce to supply them. This workforce gap puts our economic competitiveness and national security at risk. We must act now to ensure we have the workforce we need—in both the public and private sectors—to defend our critical infrastructure, institutions, and businesses from cyberattacks.

We have both seen the roots of this problem firsthand in our roles as leaders of government agencies, companies, and nonprofits facing cyber risks. The problem comes from two sides. On the one hand, we have observed public and private institutions who are not doing enough to invest in the training needed to build a world-class cyber workforce. On the other hand, we have spoken with Americans of all backgrounds who want access to these opportunities but feel unable to obtain them. Fortunately, from where we sit, there are clear and immediate steps we as a country can take to bolster our cyber workforce and shore up our competitiveness.

First, we need to improve our pipeline of technical talent. We need to create opportunities for Americans from all walks of life to build the technical skills needed for this field—including apprenticeships and bootcamps for those without prior technical training or a four-year college degree. We should also support the formation of partnerships between employers, community colleges, and universities to connect jobseekers with employers in need of these skills. At the same time, employers must increase their investments in their existing workforces through upskilling programs and career ladders.

Second, we need to demystify cybersecurity as a career. Too many Americans have been fed an outdated idea that these jobs require an unattainable skill reserved for only a select few. The reality is that the cyber industry needs backgrounds of many kinds—including communicators, project managers, business specialists, and other non-technical workers.

Third, we should use investments in our cyber workforce as an opportunity to diversify the talent pipeline and advance equity and inclusion goals. We simply cannot afford a cyber workforce that excludes large swaths of our population, as has too often been the case. Women make up less than 25% of the cyber workforce and are underrepresented to an even greater extent in management roles. People of color are similarly underrepresented in the cyber workforce. Our economic competitiveness depends on opening the aperture of opportunity in cybersecurity to women, communities of color, and others who have been unfairly cut off from access this field.

The good news is that we have the resources we need to close the cyber workforce gap. The American economy remains the most innovative in the world and continues to generate new sources of digital opportunity—from secure software advances to the development of Scratch, a training-oriented programming language available to children of all backgrounds. To capture these opportunities, the public and private sectors must increase their investments in technology and cyber training and expand their shared channels for collaboration on these issues.

America’s most critical infrastructure is our people. Our ability to maintain U.S. leadership of the global economy and defend against our adversaries depends on maintaining the competitiveness of our workforce. We have always stepped up to meet the economic and security challenges of the past. With these steps in mind, we are confident we will do so again today.

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