It’s no secret that the cybersecurity talent shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing our industry, with experts predicting 1.5 million open and unfilled global security positions over the next five years. Simple awareness of careers in this field is just the beginning; currently, almost two-thirds of high school students reported that the idea of a cybersecurity career had never been mentioned to them by a teacher or guidance counselor.

In light of these findings, it’s crucial that we as business leaders purposefully collaborate with educators in order to reach both university and high school students to close this widening gap. The security talent shortage goes beyond a pure numbers standpoint. As cybercriminals evolve, we need to ensure both the current- and next-generation security workforce is equipped with the skills they need to meet the varied challenges of the 21st-century threat landscape.

Encouraging Future Cybersecurity Professionals

I’m proud to say that IBM is walking the walk when it comes to driving this vital industry transformation to excite and coach the cybersecurity leaders of today and tomorrow. Earlier this year, we sponsored the Global CyberLympics, an online ethical hacking competition, while just last week we supported Rochester Institute of Technology’s first Collegiate Pentesting Competition.

On Nov. 12, IBM Security General Manager Brendan Hannigan will kick off New York University’s annual Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW), a weekend of competitions designed to prepare students with the skills to shape the future of our industry.

These events and others like them around the globe encourage the participation of students from varied backgrounds. But all are passionate young adults seeking to challenge traditional mindsets, putting their creative problem solving skills to work and thriving as part of a team working towards a common goal. They also serve as a motivating reminder for current cybersecurity professionals to commit to further education throughout their careers and leverage industry competitions to hone their skill sets.

The Security Sector Moves Forward

Industry initiatives like these have the potential to attract the best and the brightest to cybersecurity while also helping students and professionals practice the top offensive and defensive security techniques needed to combat today’s evolving threats. In order to stay ahead of cybercriminals, we collectively need to learn to think like them. Ethical hacking contests such as these are a key tool in the security training arsenal to help put essential skills such as vulnerability testing, exploit discovery and reverse engineering to the test.

I wish the students participating in this week’s CSAW challenges the best of luck, and I hope, like me, they inspire you to take an active role in solving the skills gap challenge. By working together, I’m confident that our industry can attract and train a cybersecurity workforce that can turn the tide in our favor in the fight to protect corporate and personal data.

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