Cybersecurity careers suffering brand-recognition problems amongst young Australians

Young Australians learned about safe online behaviour earlier than their international peers and are more likely to consider a career in IT security, but few students have actually met an IT-security professional half are unaware of what the career actually involves, security-industry giant Raytheon has reported after conducting global research into the next generation of workers' readiness to fill the yawning IT-security skills gap.

The company's Securing Our Future: Closing the Cybersecurity Talent Gap report, conducted by Zogby Analytics and involving the US National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), surveyed 3871 young adults in 12 countries, all aged 18 to 26, about their experiences with cybersecurity and their interest in pursuing a career in the area.

Some 29.1 percent of the Australian respondents said they would consider a career to make the Internet safer and more secure – ahead of the 27.8 percent who answered in the affirmative globally. These figures, however, represented a slide of 7.4 percent from last year's levels – less of a decline than the 16.2 percent observed internationally.

Only 13.3 percent of surveyed Australians had ever met or spoken with a practicing cybersecurity professional (compared to 21.2 percent globally) and only 33.5 percent of Australian respondents were aware of the responsibilities and job tasks the position involved, compared with 39.2 percent globally.

Asia-Pacific respondents were far more likely to be unaware of the responsibilities of a cybersecurity job than those in other regions, with 71 percent unaware of the typical range of responsibilities involved in a cyber career; this compared with 61 percent globally and 48 percent in the Middle East.

The results are “a wake-up call for Australia to provide the cyber workforce we will need in the future to keep our country safe online,” Raytheon Australia managing director Michael Ward said in a statement. “This is a real issue and we all have a part to play in finding a solution.”

“As a company with a large engineering and technical workforce, Raytheon is acutely aware of the need to motivate young Australians to continue their maths and science studies, so they can be equipped to embark upon tertiary studies leading to cyber careers.”

Clarification around what the job entails did seem to have a positive effect, with 59 percent of the young Australians that had met a practicing cybersecurity professional saying they would consider it as a career option – twice the 29.1 percent of the general population weighing up such a choice.

Schools were doing little to prepare students for potential roles in cybersecurity, with just 31 percent of respondents saying their school computer classes had prepared them to pursue a career in cybersecurity or similar area. Asia-Pacific students were among the world's least prepared, with 53 percent saying no cybersecurity programs were available to them – compared with 43 percent in the US and 46 percent globally.

Read more: Australian IT-security spending outpacing the world as vertical-industry spending slumps: Gartner

“Schools are also not preparing young adults for these jobs,” the firm's analysis noted, “and there is a gap within the gap, with females less interested and informed about careers in cybersecurity than their male counterparts.”

That gender gap was significant, with 66 percent of women and 57 percent of men saying no teacher or career counselor had ever mentioned the idea of a career in cybersecurity. Some 25 percent of women globally, and 17 percent of men globally, said young adults weren't choosing cyber careers due to a lack of interest.

The figures also showed US women were three times as likely to be uninterested in cybersecurity careers.

“With this knowledge and survey results,” the report's authors concluded, “we can chart a course forward, which requires the active collaboration between business sectors, the government and our higher and lower education systems. This multifaceted approach is required if millennials and future generations are to become the sharp, aware and talented cyber defenders our societies need.”

The IT-security skills gap has been an ongoing source of concern for businesses of all sizes, with the flood of security attacks pushing organisations to bolster their internal security capabilities and security consultancies and security providers racing to compete for scarce security talent.

A lack of suitable local candidates has had some companies looking overseas for recruits, while organisations as diverse as the Australian Centre for Cyber Security and technology giant Cisco Systems have noted the importance of resolving the cybersecurity crunch for Australia's national development.

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Tags US National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA)cybersecurityCisco SystemsIT-securityAustraliansraytheonCSO Australiamiddle east

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