We've heard a lot about the cybersecurity skills gap in the past decade — and it's getting worse. While estimates of the total hiring shortfall vary a bit, everyone agrees that it's bad, with a deficit of as many as 4 million cybersecurity professionals worldwide. And a study released in July by ISSA and ESG found that 70 percent of respondents believe their organization has been impacted by the global cybersecurity skills shortage.
This critical issue needs to be tackled from many directions. Education is one of them, and effective training and certifications will continue to be a big part of this effort. I can tell you firsthand how valuable they've been to my own career.
Training and certification are a key part of the solution
I'm currently vice president of information technology at Secured Retail Networks (SRN), but I didn't take a traditional path to get to where I am in my career. For starters, I didn't go to college. My interest in computers began in childhood. My first job was in junior high, building systems and learning software. A buddy and I actually started a little business doing custom builds for people.
The high school I attended was one of the schools that Cisco selected to run a pilot program of its Networking Academy. They actually trained some teachers to deliver the CCNA curriculum. I was happy for the opportunity and jumped at it. I graduated with almost a CCNA designation and was Microsoft certified at 18.
From there, I jumped right into a career in technology. I found that my certifications took me where I needed to go. I started doing quality assurance and random jobs through different temp agencies and for tech consultancies. So I've done consulting work from a very young age. I've never actually had a single position with a company where I was a network admin or a systems admin. I've always been more focused on providing services for others.
And training and certifications have continued to play an important role not just in my own career advancement but also when it comes to who I hire. Cybersecurity professionals continue to need guidance. The ESG/ISSA study mentioned above found that 63 percent of respondents had worked in cybersecurity for less than three years, and 68 percent didn't have a well-defined career path.
When I'm trying to fill an open position, experience is definitely one of the hardest things to find. I get people who have some training, but the real-world experience is lacking with a lot of the candidates that we see. That's why certifications are so helpful. They help to demonstrate and validate knowledge beyond what's on someone's resume.
Training and learning have to be continuous
Even after many years in IT in different positions, I'm still learning new things and seeking out new training and certifications. This is an industry where you never stop learning.
I recently completed Fortinet's NSE 8 certification, for example. The Fortinet Network Security Expert (NSE) training and certification program has eight levels and is designed to provide technical professionals with an independent validation of their network security skills and experience. To date, the program has issued more than 500,000 certifications.
Levels 1 through 3 assess a user's knowledge of the threat landscape and can be useful for anyone who wants to become more cyber-aware. Levels 4 through 6 are designed for a technical audience. These courses focus on the learner's ability to install, configure and troubleshoot comprehensive, integrated network security controls in live environments.
At the top of the pyramid, Levels 7 and 8 focus on the expertise needed to make full use of Fortinet solutions. So far, only 381 individuals worldwide have earned their NSE 8 certification and I'm proud to be part of this group.
Certification and training also help with customer growth
At SRN, we find having highly certified personnel validates our expertise to our customers. They appreciate that we have taken the time and invested the resources to ensure we are certified and trained on the latest and greatest tools.
Technology changes at breakneck speed, so it's never just a one-and-done kind of thing when it comes to training. Customers know that, and they are looking for organizations that can demonstrate that they know their stuff.
It's been training and certifications along the way that have been instrumental in my career. Whether you get a college degree or not, certifications add that extra something to your resume, demonstrating to potential employers that you have practical, real-world knowledge. With a giant cyber skills gap to fill, employers want to know that the people they hire can deliver. That's why I recommend exploring certifications to see which ones might be a good fit for you.