7/30/2020
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Ill-Defined Career Paths Hamper Growth for IT Security Pros

Appsec and cloud security skills are the most in demand, and a shortage of staff is wearing on security teams, a new study shows.



Landing a job in cybersecurity is the easy part. It's what happens later that's trickier for a high percentage of cybersecurity professionals.

A new report by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) and the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) shows people with IT security skills continue to be a blazing-hot commodity because of a deepening skills shortage. However, a continuous lack of training, career-development, and long-term planning often results in many of them largely going through their careers overworked, over-stressed - and with little strategic direction.

Organizations should demonstrate care and the willingness to invest in employees and staff, says Candy Alexander, president of ISSA International. "Do not treat them as a resource that is easily replaced because they are not. Take time to understand their role and position. Don't be afraid to ask questions and keep the dialog open."

Some 73% of the 327 total cybersecurity professionals and ISSA members interviewed for the report professed to being contacted by recruiters for other jobs at least once a month. Nearly one-quarter (24%) say they receive such solicitations multiple times a week, and another 16% at least once a week.

The data shows that the market for cybersecurity talent continues to be a "sellers market," according to the report (the fourth on the topic by ESG and ISSA in as many years). Some 70% of survey respondents said their organizations had been impacted by a skills shortage and 45% described the situation as having worsened over the past few years.

The areas with the most significant skills shortages are application security and cloud security, with 33% and 31%, respectively, of the respondents identifying it as their biggest pain point. Other areas with high demand included security analysis and investigations (29%) and security engineering (26%).

Multiple Job Challenges

The survey shows that while demand for IT security skills continue to handily outstrip supply, those already in the profession face a slew of challenges.

One of them is being overworked. Since many organizations are short-staffed, existing staff has to take on more work. Fifty eight percent say increased workload is the biggest impact of the skills shortage.

Because of the increased workload, existing staff has little opportunity to utilize technology to their full potential or have little time to work with business units. Instead, many spend a disproportionate amount of time on incident response and other firefighting operations. Unsurprisingly, 34% described burnout and a high attrition rate as two big consequences on existing staff from the security skills shortage.

Disturbingly, the pace and pressure of the job are pushing at least some to depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction, according to the report. Twenty-nine percent say they or someone they know has experienced significant personal issues as a result of job-related stress.

Career Paths

Career progression and career growth are another factor. Sixty-three percent of the survey respondents were relatively new to the profession, with less than three years experience. Yet, less than one-third (32%) of the security professionals in the ESG/ISSA study believe they have a well-defined career-path and a plan to get to the next level. Twenty-eight percent say they don't have a path or a plan, and 40% have some idea, but described it as not a well-defined plan.

Many security professionals enhance their security skills on the fly simply by jumping from job to job and not in a formal, systematic way. Some 43% said that having a mentor, a standardized career map, and technical training were critical to moving to the next level. Nearly seven in 10 say the most effective method to increase their knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) is via specific security training courses; 65% say participation in professional organizations and events is critical to that goal.

"From [an] industry perspective, it is critical for the profession to work together to define a globally accepted professional career map," Alexander says. The map would need to detail "what exactly a cybersecurity profession is and what KSAs for each level are needed to be successful," she adds.

Related Content:

Register now for this year's fully virtual Black Hat USA, scheduled to take place August 1–6, and get more information about the event on the Black Hat website. Click for details on conference information and to register.

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio
 

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