In Plain Sight: Why Military Veterans Are a Great Fit for Cybersecurity Careers
Cybersecurity is a major concern for businesses worldwide. Just look at the results from “The Third Annual Study on the Cyber Resilient Organization” by IBM and the Ponemon Institute: The 2018 study found 65 percent of security professionals believe the severity of cyberattacks has increased, and only 29 percent have sufficient staffing to achieve cyber resilience. Many cybersecurity teams are looking to hire security analysts, and IBM Security is no different.
Unfortunately, we face a worrying shortage of talent as an industry. In fact, Frost & Sullivan predicted the number of unfilled cybersecurity positions could hit 1.8 million by 2022. So, it’s clear security leaders need to find a solution to this critical issue — which means finding new sources of untapped talent with relevant, transferable skills.
Applying Military Skills to Cybersecurity Careers
A 2017 report from the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) proposed a “new collar” approach to recruiting. This strategy means recruiting professionals who lack traditional college degrees but possess the technical skills and aptitudes of explorers, problem solvers, students, guardians and consultants. One sector where these attributes can be found in abundance is the military.
With a military background myself, I have always championed this new collar approach. Leading IBM’s security business in Europe, I do many of the same things I used to do when I was commanding a large military unit. I had a team of technical experts who had in-depth knowledge in their particular fields, and I had to translate what they were doing to the commanding officer and explain his objectives to my technical team.
Much of what I do today is very similar: I lead a large team of cybersecurity experts across Europe, and we use that technical expertise to support business outcomes. It’s imperative for us to translate between the technology and the business, helping business leaders understand what cybersecurity means for them. Anyone who has served in a military environment will have many of the soft skills that are relevant to cybersecurity careers.
Below are some of the most sought-after skills organizations, such as IBM, look for in prospective security professionals:
- Problem solver: We don’t need someone who says, “We’ve got a problem,” but someone who says, “We’ve got a problem, here’s some solutions and I recommend this one.”
- Explorer: Security incidents don’t go to plan. We need someone who can follow the rules but also take initiative to find better ways to solve problems when unexpected situations develop.
- Guardian: In cybersecurity, we have access to systems that hold very sensitive information. We need people who are ethical, reliable and trustworthy.
- Consultant: We need people who can advise and help the business, demonstrating why cybersecurity is important.
- Student: We need people who want to learn. What’s exciting about cybersecurity is that it’s continually changing. Bad guys are always seeking new ways to attack us — and we need people who will constantly learn about this changing landscape.
Helping UK Military Veterans Transition Into Cybersecurity Careers
Given the skills shortage our industry faces, I fully support initiatives designed to help veterans connect with future employers and learn more about what cybersecurity careers have to offer. This is why IBM supported the launch of TechVets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans and service leavers transition into cybersecurity careers.
Backed by General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander of Joint Forces Command and one of the six chiefs of staff leading the U.K. Armed Forces until April 2016, TechVets’ first initiative will be its Veterans’ Digital Cyber Academy, which provides free cybersecurity training to the service leaver and veteran communities.
I was honored to attend the launch event in London on March 8, where I gave a talk about IBM’s own successes in hiring military veterans. The event also featured talks and attendance from a range of organizations, including the National Cyber Security Centre, Transport for London (TfL) and the Institute for Cyber Security Innovation, as well as an impressive audience of 250 veterans, service leavers, industry champions, entrepreneurs, investors and serving military.
At IBM, we have seen significant success in training and hiring veterans with proven skills and competencies to start closing the cybersecurity skills gap. We have committed to ongoing training programs, having already trained over 1,000 veterans in the U.S. and over 100 in the U.K. I’m glad to see that the wider industry is acknowledging how successful this approach can be.