In its 2021 High-Risk List report on federal areas vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified digital and cybersecurity skills gap as a leading cause in putting federal agencies at risk. This finding should come as little surprise as a major talent shortage in cybersecurity persists globally. Recent warnings on Russian hacker group Nobelium have heightened the urgency with which federal agencies must prioritize and accelerate efforts to reform how they recruit and retain talent in the field of IT and cybersecurity.
This past summer, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) embarked on a cybersecurity hiring spree described as “the most significant hiring initiative that DHS has undertaken in its history”, yet this initiative has filled only 12 percent of more than 2,000 cybersecurity job vacancies. As agencies like DHS continue to invest in these large-scale recruitment efforts, it’s important to also consider strategies that will drive employee retention. Research has shown that employees are more likely to leave their jobs when they don’t have access to training and career development programs. In the rapidly evolving fields of IT and cybersecurity, continuous skills development is also key to staying ahead of potential risks and threats.
In order to efficiently reskill and upskill their employees, federal agencies should routinely evaluate expertise levels for each employee at the individual level. According to the High-Risk List report, none of the agencies assessed have implemented best practices for workforce planning in IT or cybersecurity – including plans for skills assessments. Maintaining an accurate view of the skills that exist in the current workforce helps federal agencies pursue the right training programs and course recommendations to prevent future skills gaps and workforce shortages.
Another benefit of investing in skills assessment programs is that they can work in tandem with online learning programs to build personalized learning pathways for employees to reach their reskilling and upskilling goals. Recently, global companies in the private sector found that this drives employee motivation to pursue further training. Through a partnership with Coursera, companies like Pfizer, Ikea, and Fidelity have implemented proficiency tests connected to their employee training platforms. These tests assessed company-wide skills distribution by individually evaluating each employee. The companies found that employees who completed the tests were three times more likely to enroll in a recommended course within 24 hours. In addition, course completion rates improved by 66 percent.
As federal agencies look to close the cybersecurity skills gap and workforce shortage, they must look beyond recruitment initiatives towards a long-term plan for employee retention and development. A survey found that only 32 percent of agencies feel prepared to address the growing demands to reskill and upskill current employees. A strong investment in workforce planning means exploring programs for continuous career development to build a stable and agile workforce that can respond rapidly to the changing landscape of cybersecurity.