Companies ramp up recruiting veterans as cybersecurity urgency grows

Many veterans have the cybersecurity skills and attitude to be successful in the public sector with the right support.

Managed security services provider Proficio, Inc., plans to grow its cybersecurity team from about 100 employees today to more than 450 people by the end of 2018.  It may seem like a daunting task for most companies given the shortage of workers with cybersecurity skills, but Proficio executives believe they have tapped into a goldmine of potential cybersecurity talent – the veterans coming out of San Diego’s military bases near the company’s headquarters.

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps operate seven bases in San Diego County, including the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, air station Miramar and Naval Base San Diego, homeport to the Pacific Fleet.

Honorably discharged servicemen and women who have worked in intelligence gathering, communications and on submarines are ideal candidates for cybersecurity positions, says Tim McElwee, president and chairman of Proficio.  “The intrinsic value that we saw when we brought military personnel in was just the overall great operational processes and procedures that they follow. Their DNA is shaped to follow those to a T,” he says. What’s more, “Their exposure to enterprise-class software and hardware was much greater than what a traditional college grad has or someone we hire from another industry,” he adds, not to mention their dedication, professionalism and teamwork.

“The number of military personnel that are exiting the branches of military here in San Diego had an enormous impact on our ability to hire,” McElwee says. Today, a quarter of Proficio’s employees have served in the military, nearly 40 percent of those veterans work in security operations and more than 30 percent of them work in engineering. McElwee expects to bring on more veterans for the company’s next growth phase, in addition to hiring experienced managers from the private sector.

Enterprises are ramping up their cybersecurity recruiting efforts specifically for veterans who are highly skilled in cybersecurity as the number of unfilled cyber positions is expected to reach 1.5 million by 2019, according to Symantec.  Cybersecurity programs for veterans have sprung up at PwC, IBM and other large enterprises for good reason. Veterans have the skills, discipline, reliability and mentality to become internet police officers, McElwee says.

[Related: -->Five ways the U.S. is educating cybersecurity talent – and what’s still missing]

More than 20.9 million men and women were designated as veterans in 2016, accounting for about 9 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment for male veterans dipped to 4.2 percent in 2016 and 5 percent for women veterans. The bureau does not track how many veterans pursue careers specifically in IT, technology or cybersecurity.

“I think [the veteran talent pool] is still a fairly untapped market,” says Tim Stoner, a PwC partner in cybersecurity and the lead veteran advocacy partner at the firm. Over the last two years, PwC has stepped up recruiting of veterans for its cybersecurity and privacy team after recognizing the looming cyber skills shortage and seeing a surplus of military talent return from the Middle East, Stoner says. “Cyber is super-hot across the board – in financial services, health care, government, public services, commercial products, medical devices – we couldn’t get enough of [this skilled talent],” he adds.

The PwC cybersecurity for veterans’ program is open to honorably discharged veterans from all services and ranks, and to military or veteran spouses who have at least two years of experience in roles involving IT, intelligence or communications-related specialties.

About 250 veterans were hired through the PwC cybersecurity program in 2016 out of some 500 applicants, Stoner says. Candidates that are selected begin their PwC experience in groups. They attend a seven-day PwC orientation followed by a cybersecurity training program where they learn PwC’s methodologies and tools that they will use on client projects. The length of training ranges from one month to several months depending on the specialty that the veteran pursues.

Proficio prepares veterans for their jobs through a mix of hands-on training in nine cybersecurity disciplines and formal SANS training and certifications on hardware platforms that it supports. Proficio picks up the tab for all courses and certifications, McElwee says.

Veterans still hesitant

Many veterans that gained cybersecurity skills in the military don’t believe they have the necessary skills to make it in the private sector, veteran advocates say. They also have trouble translating their military experience into private sector equivalents.  “They know more than they think they know,” Stoner says, and it’s important to have fellow veterans from the business in the recruiting process to help them realize their potential, he adds.

[Related: -->Why you can’t afford not to train veterans in cyber security]

PwC, Proficio, IBM and others waive degree requirements for veterans in cybersecurity positions, recognizing that these “new collar” positions rely on learned skills and experience more than academic degrees. Now, however, the military has stepped up its own efforts to create a pathway programs for cybersecurity careers and industry certifications – so enlisted men and women will come out of the military with more academic degrees.

The Department of Homeland Security offers veterans free cybersecurity training through online courses on its Federal Virtual Training Environment website. Veterans can explore cyber-related academic degree programs offered through the National Centers of Academic Excellence. Those enrolled in some cybersecurity academic programs can apply for scholarships in return for government service through the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program – to name a few options.

When a veteran is ready find a cybersecurity job, the DHS and a growing list of apps, websites and organizations can help them articulate their military experience and connect them with hiring companies.

“They don’t know how to translate their experience very well on paper, or conduct an interview, navigate the landscape,” says Nigel LeBlanc, founder of Cyber Warrior Network, a cloud-based recruiting and career management tool. “I’m here to help them bridge that gap and empower them in the cybersecurity workforce,” he says. LeBlanc’s mission is to help veterans articulate their most valuable cyber skills, identify specific skills gaps that require additional training or certifications, and then match them with a private sector cyber job.

[Related: -->Security Recruiter Directory]

Still in its early stages, the platform is in beta testing and scheduled for rollout this fall , but LeBlanc has already helped a handful of veterans find private sector cybersecurity jobs.

Finding a cultural fit

Like most new hires, veterans in the private sector must navigate a culture that’s vastly different from military life. When Navy veteran Dana Hawkins took his first private sector job as a contractor, “just getting used to the lack of process” at some smaller companies compared to the stringent cybersecurity processes of the military was a big challenge. Hawkins is now director of security services at Proficio.  Other veterans find it challenging to work with a virtual team after years of direct contact with leaders. “It takes a while for our veterans to get used to it,” Stoner says.

To smooth the transition, PwC assigns veteran mentors to help new hires assimilate into the firm.  Stoner, an Army veteran and reservist himself, finds that military “athletes” – those veterans withleadership, self-discipline and a goal-oriented approach– make the best transition to private sector cybersecurity careers – and there’s plenty of room for more.

“Cyber will be in more demand tomorrow than it is today,” Stoner says. “Our clients demand more of it, so all indicators say that these veteran classes will be growing for the foreseeable future.”

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