Cyber Security Experts Have High Demand, But a Huge Skills Gap

From government departments to utility plants, executives are struggling to find experts to fill their cyber security needs. The consciousness of the danger has reached the tipping point. Executives in the C-suites get it -- cyber danger is imminent. Executives know there's a real possibility their networks have already been hacked. Yet finding skilled personnel to build protection is a growing problem.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, US job postings for cyber security are up 74% over the last five years and there are currently 209,000 unfilled jobs. University programs in cyber security are springing up like wildflowers, from MIT to USC, even Mississippi State. Pay Scale notes that median salaries for cyber security graduates range from $65,000 to $100,000 per year. Prolonged unfilled demand can only push those salaries higher.

C-suite Executives Get It

New research from SMU's Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security finds that executives are changing the way they manage and invest in cyber security, moving away from limited, reactive approaches and adopting systemic risk management frameworks that combine hardware, software, and operations protocols to mitigate cyber risk.

With that recognition of need comes new demand. "There's a skills gap. There are openings and a certain number of trained people are available, but there's a gap," Fred Chang, director of the Deason Institute told Design News. "That gap is growing. It's a big number. There are people defending networks, but there are not enough of them."

The study includes executives from a range of industries and government organizations. More than 80% reported broad and increasing support among senior-level management and corporate boards for their cyber security efforts. Eighty-eight percent reported that their security budgets have increased, and the majority of respondents cited news coverage of large and harmful security breaches are driving that support.

In an interesting twist of perception, 46% of those interviewed believe their organization is spending the right amount of money on cyber security, while 64% believe that their peers are spending too little.

The findings were similar across those interviewed from the private sector. They are acting quickly. The government executives surveyed, however, noted that the lengthy budgeting process they must work through makes it difficult to react quickly to new threats. Slow as it may be, they are getting their budgets. "Budgets are not the major obstacle," Chang told us. "Over the past few years, the awareness of cyber threats has gone up. For many of our respondents, they said we can get the budget, they just can't get the trained personnel."

Chang noted that college and university programs are helping, but the process is slow. "Programs like ours will help close the gap, but it will be a long-term project," he said. "I present our program at middle schools with the belief we need to stimulate an interest relatively early. By the time they get to college, it may be too late, even high school may be too late to get their interest."

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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