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The worst-kept secret in the United States’ cybersecurity industry is that there aren’t enough skilled cybersecurity workers to sustain the industry’s rapid growth over the next decade.

More than 700,000 cybersecurity jobs have yet to be filled as of last year, and that number is only expected to rise as demand for security grows worldwide in virtually every business sector. The problem has historically been exacerbated by the lack of championing cybersecurity as an accessible, learnable skill, but this month’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month theme — “See yourself in Cyber” — seems to have zeroed in on the issue. And as a veteran who entered the cybersecurity industry directly from the Air Force, I believe it’s time for my colleagues to amplify the opportunities that veterans wondering where to take their career can obtain in the cybersecurity industry.

The relationship between veterans and the cybersecurity workforce in the United States can be a symbiotic one, with each group benefitting the other. Just as the cybersecurity industry comes to terms with a talent shortage, the New York Times reported in 2020 that military veterans are 37% more likely to be underemployed than non-veterans, making the math of employing veterans in the cybersecurity industry work out in everybody’s favor.

But of course, it’s never as simple as just giving peoples jobs. Speaking from experience, it can be confusing and unfamiliar to enter the private sector after having only served your country prior. I served as an Active Duty Officer in the Air Force for six years before joining the private cybersecurity industry, having never focused on business risk, assessed financial costs to achieving an objective or spent time in a private office setting. Within the military, title hierarchy and working as a team is standardized, so adjusting to work alongside colleagues of all ages and experience levels was a new experience for me.


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Veterans in cybersecurity: Training and apprenticeship are critical

That’s just a small sample of the growing pains I had to work through at my first job outside of the military, but every veteran has their own struggles they exit their commitment to their country with. That’s why it’s critical that cyber companies prioritize programs like Skillbridge, a Department of Defense program that sponsors internship and pre-apprenticeship opportunities for veterans in cyber and other types of career fields, alongside their regular hiring rounds. Veterans looking to get their foot in the door can also benefit themselves by networking on LinkedIn and at in-person events with cyber professionals, as well as staying up-to-date with the industry’s most powerful news. Taking advantage of free cyber learning programs like LinkedIn Learning can also provide a leg up when exploring the cybersecurity job market.

But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, unfortunately, to smoothing the transition from military to private sector. The most common reasons I hear veterans give regarding their apprehension to joining the private sector are a lack of knowledge about job opportunities and a lack of certifications or cyber experience.

Both of those factors could be remedied with more targeted awareness campaigns, as well as more education directed at service members to help them understand why they’re likely already a good fit to work in cybersecurity, regardless of their experience or background with technology. The cybersecurity industry itself could also stand to more coherently share the benefits of the private sector — better pay, work-life balance and career advancement opportunities — to entice former service members to take on the challenge of cybersecurity.

The military trains people to be adaptable and switch roles often with ease, as well as how to take comfort in the unknown. Military members, like cybersecurity analysts, rarely have all of the intel and tools at their disposal to operate in an academic way. As a result, they’re usually experienced in overcoming resource deficiencies and hold a strong work ethic, both qualities that serve cybersecurity practitioners well. The military was early to implement the concept of a Security Operations Center for around-the-clock cybersecurity monitoring, and a successful private sector SOC involves all team members understanding their mission and playing their role. These skills are second nature to service members.

The combination of all those likenesses adds up in cybersecurity, then, for most veterans to feel like they’re able to continue serving, only by defending the public in a different way than they are used to. Preserving that sense of duty by keeping the public safe from online attacks is a fantastic career evolution for veterans, and it’s time to let them know.

Mark Manglicmot is SVP of security services at Arctic Wolf.


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