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Contributing writer

Could military veterans stop the cybersecurity skills shortage?

Oct 06, 20176 mins

A look at why ex-military professionals may be the future of cybersecurity

As cyberattacks become more commonplace, organisations of all shapes and sizes now understand the importance of securing their data, meaning cybersecurity skills continue to be in high demand.

Analyst firm Frost and Sullivan has forecast a shortage of 350,000 cybersecurity professionals in Europe by 2020 and a quarter of those surveyed for the ISACA’s State of Cyber Security 2017 report noted that they’d found many current cybersecurity candidates lacking technical skills. Furthermore, over a quarter reported it often takes them more than six months to fill priority cybersecurity positions.

Could the answer to this skills shortage lie with the military; where service leavers eager to learn already have a gamut of soft skills essential to the sector?

Through their experience in the armed forces they’re able to deal with complex situations, keep calm when the worst happens and are used to following a set of structured processes, but also have the confidence to use their initiative when needed.

Stuart Lythgoe, a retired army lawyer, highlights that there’s more to an ex-service jobseeker than “a well-ironed shirt and a pair of shiny shoes”.

“There’s a limited understanding of the skill set service people bring. A broad one is their adaptability. In the services, one’s familiar with moving from job to job, interspaced with short notice deployments to uncomfortable environments. Then there’s resilience. These combined provide a really robust and strong foundation to build upon,” he points out.

Julian Meyrick, vice president of IBM Security Europe, emphasises that the sector needs people who are strong communicators “who’re not phased when a CEO comes into a security operations centre and starts hammering on the table and who can condense complex situations down and brief them in simple terms”.

An ex-Army officer himself, Meyrick believes that a lot of the work he undertakes today is actually similar to his military roles.

“I commanded a platoon of technical specialists and my job was the bridge between the technical team and the commanding officer. In the business world that’s explaining the technical aspects of cybersecurity in terms of how it can impact the business and how we can plan to protect it.

“It makes perfect business sense to hire veterans into roles from threat monitoring analyst to penetration tester, security operations centre analyst and cyber operations manager. They come with relevant soft skills that are often difficult to interview for.”

However, ex-service personnel often struggle when they enter “Civvie Street” as their engrained armed forces ethos doesn’t always merge easily with the corporate world. They can often find it tough to recognise the value of their skills to a civilian employer, and be able to put them across in terms a potential employer will understand.

“There’s a lack of understanding of the commercial workplace,” says retired Brigadier Andrew Jackson, managing director of social enterprise SaluteMyJob. “Most of us join the military from school, college or university and have never worked in the commercial sector. We often struggle to see how what we’ve learned applies to this environment.

“Ex-military generally struggle to present themselves as competitive candidates alongside people with commercial experience. CVs can be poor—they often don’t align their skills to the job description,” he explains.

But with such a huge pool of untapped potential out there, more and more organisations are looking at different ways they can help to bring these skilled individuals into the cyber fold.

One such project is currently underway by IBM, which has partnered with SaluteMyJob and not-for-profit organisation Corsham Institute (Ci) to provide basic cybersecurity training to service leavers.

Hidden away in Wiltshire’s sleepy countryside lies a country estate where veterans are coming to train in preparation for a new career in the cybersecurity sector. Although the town of Corsham may be surrounded by green fields and grazing sheep, it actually has strong military ties, with several Ministry of Defence bases in the area. In addition, it also has one of the UK’s largest digital capacities, with a number of data centres and cloud services, as well as being home to the MoD’s Global Operations and Security Control Centre.

This makes it the perfect location for the partnership’s training base, where military veterans are coming to learn about IBM’s QRadar cybersecurity software and i2 Analyst’s Notebook software—for free. 100 veterans have already gained IBM certification through the partnership, which sees IBM provide the funding, software and trainer, with Ci providing the facilities and SaluteMyJob sourcing suitable candidates from the veteran community.

In addition to the technical training, IBM provides assessments and tests the students are likely to face when applying for jobs, helping them improve their performance during the recruitment process.

“We’re developing their confidence and skills as they transition from military service into commercial employment,” enthuses Rachel Neaman, Ci’s CEO. “The presence of the armed forces within Ci’s local community has provided us with unique insight into the challenges associated with resettlement. Leaving behind the certainties of life in the armed forces is a daunting transition for any veteran. This partnership develops cyber and digital skills that creates opportunities for immediate employment. Our ambition is to encourage individual responsibility and build confidence for all the veterans we support.”

With no sign that the cybersecurity skills shortage looks likely to abate, employers must look to find new sources of skills and the military looks like the perfect place to find recruits. These ‘diamonds in the rough’ are disciplined, reliable and eager to learn; all they want is the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to get their foot in the door.

“We want to broadcast to the whole MoD community that they could be really valuable to the cyber security sector,” Meyrick says. “My belief is that if we can provide these people with the technical skills they need, they’ll bring to the table a lot of skills that civilian employers find hard to find.

“With the right training and investment, hiring veterans can help with the huge challenge of closing the cybersecurity skills gap.”

Contributing writer