Industry insights

Cybersecurity hiring: Why employer and higher ed collaboration is key

Michelle Moore, Ph.D.
March 31, 2022 by
Michelle Moore, Ph.D.

Do you wish you could have more of an impact on the knowledge and skills of cybersecurity professionals entering your organization? The good news is you can — and it’s easier than you may think. 

There’s been a steady drumbeat of articles on the cybersecurity skills gap over the past decade, yet 92% of security hiring managers are still having challenges filling open cybersecurity positions, according to Infosec’s 2021 IT & Security Talent Pipeline Study. Organizations looking for talented cybersecurity professionals to join — and stay — in their ranks need to make sure they're optimizing the biggest pool of available talent: the 20 million students enrolled in higher education.

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Industry trends in higher education

Let’s first examine the general trends and shifts in higher education that have led to a need for collaboration between businesses and educational leaders. 

EdTech’s list of six emerging technology trends in higher education includes the popularity of “micro-credentials” — programs that focus on a particular skill, such as a boot camp, short course or certification. Another increasingly popular trend is the importance of student career pathways. Here are some important numbers to keep in mind, courtesy of Salesforce, which surveyed over 2,000 students and staff:

  • 35% of students say their institution of higher learning doesn’t provide a way to link them with alumni who work in their intended career area. 
  • 49% of students say their career prospects are the most important part of deciding whether to attend a particular college or university. 

Other important higher education trends include exploring new business models, innovation, and flexible learning and working options. Organizations that take the lead and help solve the challenges of connecting students with real-world careers benefit in two ways. First, they can build a steady pipeline of talent to fill their organization’s needs. Second, they can establish a presence within higher education to help guide the curriculum towards the types of knowledge and skills that are most needed to hit the ground running.

It’s safe to say that colleges and universities have changed dramatically in the last decade. In addition to the rise of technology and the prevalence of online learning is the reality that there are now many more available majors and career paths for learners. U.S. News & World Report’s list of 100 Best Jobs includes cybersecurity-related positions like software developer (#2), data scientist (#8), IT manager (#12) and information security analyst (#15) — jobs that are relatively new, at least compared to others on the list such as physician, dentist and pilot. 

All of these trends and shifts have come in response to a need for leaders in higher education to adapt to better prepare their students for current and future realities.

Higher education for cybersecurity 

Now let’s talk specifically about cybersecurity education and prospective students.  The demand for cybersecurity professionals is not slowing down. According to the latest ISC2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, the global cybersecurity workforce needs to grow another 65% in order to effectively defend organizations’ critical assets.

However, as Kelly O'Hara explained in an article for the job site Monster, cybersecurity has yet to “become a staple in undergraduate coursework for students majoring in related fields.” That’s why advanced degrees, internships, certification boot camps and related programs have become increasingly important.

How employers can work with higher ed to prepare students 

Education is one of the best ways for organizations to attract and retain employees. Partnering with higher ed programs can ensure we’re adequately preparing students to succeed in the cybersecurity jobs that are available now and in the future. This can happen in a number of ways:

  • Internships: Many colleges and universities have internship programs that allow students to participate either full-time or part-time — often for credit — either during the semester or summer. This is a great way for organizations to build direct connections with institutions and the individuals that are educating young professionals. Benefits of participating in an internship program include providing a fresh perspective to students and the ability to hire interns as entry-level hires, which will save you time and money when it comes to filling positions. 
  • Advanced degree programs: Many master’s and Ph.D. programs feature faculty and instructors who are also industry experts. One excellent way to foster collaboration is to send someone from your organization to be a guest speaker or guest lecturer. This will give students an inside look at the latest trends and issues in cybersecurity, day-to-day responsibilities and what companies like yours are looking for in prospective hires. And your organization will be top of mind when those students start looking for their first, or next, cybersecurity job.
  • Boot camps: Similar to advanced degree programs, boot camps can provide an opportunity to have your employees get first-hand experience with cybersecurity and evolving technologies and tools. 
  • Cybersecurity certificates: Companies collaborating with certification programs or creating their own is also a viable option, especially since certifications are extremely important in this line of work. Many boot camps train toward popular cybersecurity certifications, such as Security+ or CISSP.
  • Networking and mentorship programs: According to The Balance Careers, 80% of job seekers say their network has helped them find employment. By partnering with colleges and universities to create beneficial networking events or mentorship programs, you can help the next generation of professionals. 

Collaboration between cybersecurity businesses and higher ed is more important than ever, especially since cybercrime has shown no signs of slowing down. More and more organizations are recognizing the need to partner with higher education companies to ensure they have enough talent to combat these malicious actors and keep their networks, systems and employees secure. Those that don’t may find it more difficult to compete in the increasingly competitive cybersecurity hiring market.  

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Michelle Moore, Ph.D.
Michelle Moore, Ph.D.

Michelle Moore, Ph.D., is academic director and professor of practice for the University of San Diego’s innovative, online Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership program. She is also a researcher, author and cybersecurity policy analyst with over two decades of private-sector and government experience as a cybersecurity expert.