Veterans Can Be the Answer to Cybersecurity Talent Shortage

Employers like to hire veterans in appreciation for their service and sacrifice for our country. Many actively seek out vets because it’s altruistic, or good public relations and marketing. But the reality is, military veterans have a special combination of strengths that make them very attractive—and potentially valuable—hires for industry: discipline, leadership skills, and an excellent work ethic.

Boeing is a great example of a company that enables veterans to continue supporting our country’s military capabilities, by working on a team that supports the defense industry. The emphasis Boeing puts on its veteran’s programs in marketing and commercials is just good business.

Companies such as Walmart and Palo Alto Networks (Security Roundtable’s parent company) are also tapping into this large pool of transitioning veterans for their skills and special training—and it’s truly a meaningful win-win.

Many technology firms make a difference in veterans’ lives by offering, at no cost, education and training programs, and by partnering with organizations experienced in helping veterans. The choice to do this has to come from the top, and it must be implemented across the organization as a priority.

Naturals for cybersecurity

In the field of cybersecurity, however, veterans bring something special. Imbued with a deep respect for following orders and the rule of law, veterans know why discipline and being careful are so important. They are exposed to training and experiences throughout their careers that help them understand and manage risks perhaps better than the general population does. And, of course, the cybersecurity industry is all about managing risks in our new digital age.

What makes this especially important is that there is a growing gap between the demand for cybersecurity professionals and the available talent. Estimates are that, in less than two years, we will face a shortage of 1.5 to 2 million qualified people with specialized skills, training, and certifications.

Because our schools cannot produce such numbers of cybersecurity-ready graduates as quickly as possible, it falls on businesses to invest in training and development. What better solution than to encourage and help transitioning veterans join the cybersecurity industry?

A smart investment

Each branch of the military has its own career-transition program that helps with the basics. For example, when you’re building a résumé to describe your skills, you must learn to translate the language in your resume so it is meaningful to those that don’t have military experience. Employers immediately benefit from these programs, which help ensure a smooth transition from military culture into the commercial world.

This is where the cybersecurity field can make a smart investment with veteran-recruiting programs. Firms can contribute their own specialized training and development with a high potential ROI because the career shift into cybersecurity can be much more natural for military people than for others. These kinds of initiatives can help your company leverage the special qualifications of former military personnel.

There are four main themes in the veteran’s programs that we see in cybersecurity:

  • Education
  • Training and Certification
  • Mentorship
  • Volunteer Programs

Companies can implement internal initiatives of their own, and form partnerships with external  organizations that run proven veteran’s programs. The investment can vary, but the benefits can be very meaningful. The only mistake is not doing anything to help prepare vets (and in some cases their family members) for new careers in industry.

Driven from the top

When helping and hiring veterans is driven from the top of an organization, it can be wonderfully successful, because it becomes part of a company’s regular practices and culture. It happens that Palo Alto Networks’ CEO Mark McLaughlin and CSO Rick Howard are U.S. Army veterans who enthusiastically back the company’s veterans programs. But your leadership doesn’t need to be ex-military to make training, mentorship, and volunteer programs successful.

For instance, mentor programs can be informal. I am a mentor for about 25 of our veteran employees. Although I don’t help them with technical issues, they appreciate having someone they can go to for other kinds of advice and assistance. With backing from top management, Human Resources departments can seed mentoring relationships with one or two employees who pay it forward by helping and guiding others. HR is a critical catalyst in such initiatives.

A ‘partners pipeline’

There are several external organizations that can help jump-start an effective veterans program for your company.

VetsInTech connects veterans to the national technology ecosystem and provides re-integration services. Joining Forces, launched in 2011 by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, works with the private sector to make sure service members, veterans, and their families have the employment, education, and wellness services they need to be successful. Palo Alto Networks has committed to train 400 veterans and family members in cybersecurity through these partnerships.

Cybersecurity companies such as Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Fortinet, and ISC2 partner with the Virginia Veterans Cyber Training Program. During quarterly veteran cohort conferences, hundreds of veterans are brought in, both physically and online, and are exposed to each participating company’s offering for training and certification.

This “partners pipeline” can supply vast numbers of veterans with resources to start new careers in cybersecurity—and it will supply our field with exceptional talent for years to come. We must do all that we can to make it as easy as possible for transitioning veterans to get the education, training, certification, mentorship, and support necessary to be successful with a second career in the cybersecurity industry. Public and private-sector organizations must join in and support efforts that help those who have sacrificed so much for all of us.

Cybersecurity companies, we well as other enterprises ramping up cybersecurity within their organizations, can’t wait for academic institutions to deliver talent. We must partner in a systematic way to help them. A company must decide what kinds of resources to deploy to build valuable relationships with schools and external organizations to promote helping and hiring veterans.