The cybersecurity workforce continues to face a massive shortage of workers. Things were bad before the pandemic hit, but as workforce demands shift and cyber attacks ramp up, the problem has only gotten worse. The United States added more than 250,000 people to the cybersecurity workforce between 2020 and 2021. The bad news?  There are still about 400,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the U.S., according to an (ISC)² report.

The DoD Recruiting Efforts

The government has less flexibility than the private sector when it comes to salaries. That fact is very much true at the Department of Defense (DoD), which must be far more “creative” when it comes to attracting talent. Heather Durgin, who serves as chief of staff at the DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), recently explained in an interview with Morning Brew that recruitment efforts need to be creative to stay competitive.

JAIC is targeting the same demographics as the tech world, where large firms with famous names can offer huge pay. Durgin said the offer from the DoD is often not about the money, but a purpose, which can includes serve the country and even being able to change the face of warfare.

Hiring priorities at US navy – Business, Readiness, Warfighting

The United States Navy is also using multiple training platforms to onboard talent pool across three of its domains including business, readiness, and warfighting. The Navy has been focused on those three areas to ramp up its data science and AI efforts and that has included people, place of work, and product development – with people being the top priority.

Currently, the Navy holds two large annual events to draw AI and data science talent. These include the Naval Applications of Machine Learning Workshop and the Data Science and Analytics Workshop. Each attracts technologists, scientists, engineers and strategic leaders from across the Navy and DoD to discuss problems, challenges and solutions.

Talent Crisis?

Even with these efforts, the DoD could still face challenges attracting talent in the coming months.

“Just like most other sectors of the economy, the tech industry writ large – and not just cybersecurity areas – has seen quite a lot of employee churn in the last two years,” explained Jim Purtilo, associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland.

“Disruptions in the office including work from home practices and so on, made it easier for employees to hop to other firms or just step out of the market for a while. This turnover means mid- to large-scale companies must continue to hire just to maintain capacity, let alone expand,” Purtilo told ClearanceJobs. “If smaller organizations seem to be hiring more cautiously – perhaps strategically – then potentially this reflects perception of risk in one or another sector. But they are hiring.”

Purtilo said that he continues to see top graduates from the program continue to see excellent demand, yet many graduates may be in a search for a bit longer than was typical a few years ago.

“This is definitely an evolving market,” Purtilo warned. “That’s the backdrop that explains government’s challenges in filling cyber roles. Agencies compete for fresh graduates who are also lured to private industry that can start them at three times the salary. The feds are notoriously slow and bureaucratic in on-boarding employees too, which is a barrier.”

One arena where the government may have a competitive advantage is in professional development.

“Among the enticements to government cybersecurity tracks are in-house training programs,” Purtilo continued. “Fresh hires accepted to those programs rotate through a sequence of operational areas, perhaps many months at a time, in order to learn the ropes.”

That can go on for a couple years, and it offers both breadth and depth, which could also keep it “exciting” for young professionals.

“They still make a government salary, but they are picking up practices that are only available in select shops. The experience may make them even more competitive in industry later, but the hope – and I think reality – is that by then they will have set down roots in the agency culture, and thus prefer to make a career out of it,” said Purtilo.

“Let me please offer a shout out to some of the spectacular scholars from my program who have turned down lucrative private industry tech paths in order to focus on a career in public service. God bless them,” he added. “We are all better off because of the infusion of their talent in agencies you have heard of.”

 

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.