Modern mentorships: Fixing the cybersecurity skills gap
With job vacancies currently outweighing the number of people available to fill them, a career in cybersecurity offers almost limitless opportunities. The 2021 Cybersecurity Workforce Study from (ISC)² estimated that there were 4.19 million cybersecurity professionals worldwide -- an increase of more than 700,000 from the year before.
While this illustrates an industry undergoing major growth, there remains a workforce gap of 2.72 million people which represents a very serious problem for organizations faced with a growing volume and sophistication of security threats.
Despite its status as a growing and important branch of the IT industry, without a clear roadmap and the appropriate levels of support, it can be difficult for cybersecurity professionals to achieve their full potential. As a result, career development strategies are increasingly important for any organization that wants to ensure they have the expertise required to protect their technology infrastructure at all times. One area where there is often scope for improvement is the provision of effective mentoring for people as they enter and progress through their cybersecurity careers.
Without doubt, effective mentoring can offer transformational benefits to the individuals involved, and as a result, help employers find and retain top talent. For instance, research has established a strong link between mentoring and business success, with nearly three-quarters of small businesses that receive mentoring surviving for five years or more -- that’s twice the rate of their non-mentored counterparts. In addition, over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs as part of their overall employee development strategies.
So, what can employers do to build and maintain effective mentoring schemes to help cybersecurity professionals thrive?
- Establish clear objectives
Mentoring may take numerous forms, and relationships can focus on both specific or broad objectives. They can, for example, be structured to work over the short or long term, depending on considerations such as career development goals, where the mentee is on their career pathway, or even the amount of time available to devote to the process.
That's why it's critical to set some ground rules right away so everyone understands the boundaries that will guide those involved. For example, what does the mentee require from the process? How will interactions and communication be organized? How are mentors selected and matched with employees and how much mentoring experience do they have? With clear objectives in place from the outset, employers can avoid mistakes and ensure mentoring operates with the full understanding and support of each stakeholder.
- Build trust in the process
Understanding the preferences of both mentors and mentees is vital to building trust, particularly if they don’t know each other prior to the process getting underway. Both parties should be given the chance to express their views over the "who, what, where, and when" of how mentoring will work. This is particularly important when the participants are meeting for the first time and have no prior experience with one other to help create trust in advance. It's also crucial to have a way of providing feedback so that everyone can share both positive and negative experiences and ideas for improvement.
- Build mentoring into career development
Mentoring programs should, in an ideal world, be integrated with the overall learning and development plans developed for each employee. If a mentoring session indicates a training requirement or opportunity, for example, the supporting procedures should identify the need and make it easier to act on it.
Access to the correct training content can make a tremendous difference in the mentoring process. Ultimately, organizations that bridge the gap between these critical processes will be in a better position to guarantee that their mentoring investment pays off for the individuals involved - and, by definition, for the organization as a whole.
- Look at the options for remote mentoring
The growth in remote working has changed the way many organizations operate on a day-to-day basis, and these developments also apply to mentoring. The widespread use of video has broken down barriers between individuals and has also broadened the potential pool of those people seeking guidance and those in a position to provide it. Organizations should, therefore, consider pairing people in mentoring schemes who may previously have been considered too geographically remote.
In a highly competitive jobs market, such as currently seen in the cybersecurity industry, employers are looking for an edge in their offerings to potential employees. Those who can demonstrate a commitment to effective mentoring will not only help each person reach their potential, but differentiate their businesses so they can recruit and retain their employees over the long term.
Adam Burns is Director of Cybersecurity at Digital Guardian by HelpSystems and is an expert in cybersecurity, specifically threat detection and protection. He graduated from Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) with a Major in Computer Networking and a Minor in Computer Science, and subsequently worked as a Systems Engineer at Kaspersky Lab, where his interest in security was born. He has been in his current role at Digital Guardian for over seven years. Digital Guardian was acquired by HelpSystems in 2021.