Addressing the Skills Gap – Colin McLean
Mark Weatherford of the US Department of Homeland Security has stated “The lack of people with cyber security skills requires urgent attention. The DoHS can’t find enough people to hire”. The United Kingdom’s National Audit Office has also stated “This shortage of ICT skills hampers the UK’s ability to protect itself in cyberspace and promote the use of the internet both now and in the future”.
It is evident that there is a world-wide cyber-security skills shortage but what can be done about it?
The University of Abertay Dundee in Scotland was the first university to offer an undergraduate “hacking” degree in the UK, starting in 2006. The course is now widely recognised in the UK as a vocational supplier of security testing graduates, with many of the graduates receiving several job offers before they’ve even completed the course.
This talk focuses on the experiences of running the course and examines how the cyber security skills shortage can be addressed. Some of the issues discussed will be: -
Academia; There are many degrees with titles sounding like they may be producing the correct graduates, however, does the content match the type of skills required?
Industry; What can the security industry do to influence the content of academic courses to enable the correct type of graduate to be produced?
Extent of the problem
What is the extent of the skills gap we’re facing.
UK and the USA both state that they can’t find enough people to fill InfoSec positions.
Current InfoSec workers 2.87 million (4.90 million required by 2017). By 2017 we’ll have a skills gap of 2 million people (source)
Lots of classes popping up. However they have their detractors.
Common complaint, is lack of real-world experience.
Academics train theoretical classes, Companies blame academia for teaching too much theoretical stuff. It’s a blame game and nobody wants to back down.
Examining the problems companies are facing, many of them are vocational.
Vocational vs. Theoretical
Mathematical / Theoretical courses are being largely addressed.
Vocational courses are required as theoretical solutions are not being adopted. Better vocational courses, and better courses are needed. Not being dealt with as well as the theoretical side of things.
What skills are needed
- Core technical knowledge
- Core practical skills
- Business appreciation
- REAL practical skills
- business documentation
- thinking out of the box
- criminal mindset
How can you teach these often forgotten points? It’s not a technical subject, how can you teach a criminal mindset as an academic.
These CAN be catered for during a degree… using things like assessments and extra-curricular activities. As well as support from external partner companies. Student projects with 3rd party companies (such as NCR) have given back to both the students, the lecturers, and the company.
By moulding the class, external companies get the candidates they’re looking for. They can take students straight from the course and put them to use.
Ex-students now regularly come back to give talks at Abertay… not just to teach, but also to inspire.
Graduates are better for this interaction.
Do we need more degrees like Abertay? Yes, but different. Mould it to slightly different ends. Industry driven or guided to what we need in the industry in a few years.
Let students loose… we mustn’t stifle their enthusiasm
Students that are still part of the program, or that have left talk at lots of conferences… this is a great way to attract people to the University. Abertay even run there own conference now to attract the next generation of hackers.
Exchange with other universities helps exchange knowledge and build contacts.
“women in security” initiatives to try and bring in more women into the fold.
Have to enthuse school kids that this is an interesting and possible career path.
Ask for skills from companies to help teach the next generation
Companies should be approaching academia to try and model what THEY need.
Vocational CAN be academic! Adding research into a purely academic course can give valuable vocational skills
Companies need to work WITH universities… it has to be a partnetship
Companies shouldn’t expect graduates to be experts… they will by definition be generalists because they have to cover everything.