Griff Griffin passed on a traditional college degree and learned leadership and problem solving on the job. With his “fix it” mindset, he took his chance.

Cecelia Schartiger got her degree in early childhood education and was struggling to find full-time teaching positions when she took her chance. She translated her behavioral skills as a teacher into a project staffing professional, then later took online classes in cybersecurity.

Both of these people, who come from very different backgrounds, share one thing in common. They carved out careers in cybersecurity without pursuing a conventional path. So can you.

Security Careers: A Massive Opportunity

Many people are intimidated by the thought of a cybersecurity career. They believe security jobs require deep technical expertise in networks and operating systems, extensive academic training and certifications. While those elements can accelerate career growth, the opportunities to break into the cybersecurity field have never been greater. You might be surprised to discover how many ways there are to get started.

Market forces are driving this massive opportunity. The IT industry is facing a cybersecurity skills crisis that’s expected to leave up to 1.8 million jobs unfilled by 2022. The shortage is particularly notable among women, who represent only 11 percent of the information security workforce.

The skills crunch is occurring amid a growing cybercrime threat as criminals employ increasingly sophisticated tools and new forces, such as organized crime and state-sponsored actors, enter the picture.

Security Training From the Ground Up

Colleges and universities can’t possibly fill the skills gap on their own, so technology firms are getting more creative than ever about solutions. Cybersecurity job growth is three times the rate of overall IT job growth. For example, IBM will invest $1 billion in skills training and development for our U.S. workforce alone over the next four years. Much of this investment will be in security, which is our fastest-growing business.

One example of the many opportunities available to young people is P-TECH, a six-year program co-developed by IBM and public education officials that prepares students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. Over the course of the program, students earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree free of charge. Many of these students intern with IBM during their academic careers and join the company upon graduation.

Over the course of six years, P-TECH has expanded to over 100 schools, with several offering a degree in cybersecurity. We’re also expanding partnerships with U.S. community colleges to create more training opportunities in what we call “new collar” skills — technology-related jobs in which supply has been unable to keep up with demand. Since 2015, new collar cybersecurity professionals have accounted for around 20 percent of IBM Security’s hiring in the U.S.

New Collar Jobs: Skills Over Degrees

When it comes to new collar jobs, IBM believes skills matter more than degrees. Motivated employees who love their work — and demonstrate ambition and a willingness to advance their skills — can learn what they need through a combination of on-the-job training and ongoing education.

Prototypical new collar employees include:

  • Explorers who are investigative and challenge the status quo;
  • Problem solvers who are analytical, methodical and detail-oriented;
  • Students who are always learning;
  • Guardians who are protective, ethical and reliable; and
  • Consultants who work with others to understand and solve their problems.

These characteristics are clear in the stories noted above. Griff and Cecilia both took the initiative to get some basic education and then used their skills to apply for open positions. By being persistent, asking a lot of questions and looking for a chance to get a foot in the door, they landed their first cybersecurity jobs and expanded from there.

“You should rarely say no or believe that certain jobs are below you,” Griff said. That kind of spirit will get you far at IBM. It’s one reason why about 15 percent of the people we hire each year don’t have a traditional bachelor’s degree.

Take Advantage of Security Training

IBM’s commitment to skills development also extends to career security professionals. IBM Security Learning Academy provides an extensive catalog of free courses that build the knowledge of IBM customers. This ongoing education is available to employees as well, enabling them to advance their skills and their careers at little or no cost.

Expense should not be a barrier. Resources like Cybrary, A Cloud Guru and SANS Institute offer basic security training at little or no cost. Community colleges across the U.S. offer both certificates and degree programs in cybersecurity. IBM and many other companies also invest in our employees through ongoing training and tuition reimbursement. The security landscape changes so quickly that these investments are essential, and there are so many specialty areas available that the opportunities are nearly limitless.

Watch the Trailer for the Science Channel Documentary: Dark Web — Fighting Cybercrime

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