The challenge of hiring cyber talent in the Great Resignation [Q&A]

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Whether it's been triggered by the pandemic or other factors, the Great Resignation has led to new problems for businesses when it comes to finding and retaining staff.

This has been a particular problem in the tech sector where employees tend to be quite mobile anyway. We spoke to Amar Kanagaraj, founder and CEO of Protecto, to find out how businesses can meet the challenges of hiring tech talent.

BN: Do you see a significant shortage in cyber talent and is this is a short-term issue?

AK: Yes, finding and retaining skilled tech hires is challenging during the Great Resignation. Finding talent with cyber experience is even more challenging. According to the (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, 2021, there are 4.2 million cybersecurity workers across the globe. While the workforce gap for cybersecurity hires has dropped from 3.1 million to 2.7 million, the study estimates that the global cybersecurity workforce must grow by 65 percent to close this gap.

Businesses in different sectors needed tech talent, especially cyber talent, to work from home. Unfortunately, the increasing tech opportunities and talent shortages in the market have further accelerated the challenges to recruiters and businesses.

These shifts are structural, and the effects aren't a short-term surge. 2022 is possibly a taste of what the future holds. Businesses must change their hiring processes, attitudes, and strategies to survive. Companies that fail to meet the new expectations will ultimately struggle to hire and retain tech talent.

BN: How has the pandemic fueled the crisis?

AK: The pandemic opened up work-from-home avenues for a substantial section of the tech workforce. This new option allowed people to be stay-at-home parents while continuing their careers. Remote work also opened wider work opportunities with better employee benefits and opportunities. Suddenly, getting hired in a different city, state, or country has become more accessible. As a result, tech hires unsatisfied with their current jobs found it easier to switch.

Historically, the decision to leave a job is primarily driven by one important factor -- how someone feels their employer treated them. Some businesses had no experience dealing with the emotional needs and challenges of a work-from-home workforce. As a result, many employees felt undervalued and excluded. On the other hand, companies that offered their employees emotional support and a sense of common purpose fared much better during the pandemic.

BN: Is the pandemic the only factor? What are other factors are contributing?

AK: Hiring tech talent is also a challenge because of other aspects, such as the emergence of a younger (Gen Y and Gen Z) workforce that is highly fluid with its professional choices. They demand quality above everything else. In addition, this demographic doesn't fear change -- a generational attitude that is very different from older workers who tend to be more focused on permanent choices within their professional lives. For many, the lure of pursuing their 'dream job' led them to leave their current role and move into different professions or industries.

BN: What can cybersecurity companies do to survive the shortage?

AK: We can't wait for fully trained talent. A capable tech candidate may not have every certification you want. Some of these certifications can be acquired while on the job or via an in-house certification program. The same goes for other employment criteria -- if there is an area where you can train the employee, it is better to do so. Your new hire might not check all the boxes. However, if they have the drive, passion, and capability, hiring that person could be a wise decision in the long run.

Companies have to build a long-term talent pipeline. Historically, only large companies focus on college hires and structured training programs. However, even smaller companies must develop their pipeline of fresh talent in the future. The success of your company will largely depend on this pipeline and building it will require your HR team to work closely with schools and training institutions. In addition, internships and apprenticeships will need to become a core part of your hiring process.

BN: How can firms develop their existing workforce to fill the gap?

AK: Change is one of the primary reasons why workers leave their jobs. In many cases, lack of career advancement and learning opportunities often drives tech workers to change jobs. Many companies have introduced company-wide incentives to plug the gaps between on-the-job learning and employee expectations of professional and personal development. However, having a structured incentive system and job rotation programs helps managers and employees to understand the importance of retraining and growing talent.

Many companies, including startups like us, are enabling flexible roles and responsibilities. In most cases, companies hire tech workers with a specific job title or description. Then, once the person is hired, they are boxed into their role for work or responsibilities. Worker burnout and fatigue will stress your tech talent, resulting in a high employee churn rate. If you have top job positions opening up, float these opportunities in-house instead of focusing only on external talent. If you have employees who fit the bit and qualify for that particular position, give them the opportunity first.

BN: What should tech start ups do to survive this talent crisis?

AK: Previous generations valued the idea of 'steady employment with a regular paycheck.' In contrast, younger generations are looking for more holistic professional opportunities. Offering a good pay and benefits package is no longer enough to attract the best tech talent available. In the modern workforce, employee satisfaction goes beyond a good salary alone. This expectation is especially true with Gen Y and Gen Z hires. So, unless companies are willing to change their hiring strategy and processes, hiring tech talent will get challenging.

If anything, the pandemic has further expanded on employee expectations of job satisfaction, opportunities for personal growth, the overall purpose of the organization, and the impact of their work. Clearly stating your startup's overall mission and painting the purpose will attract talent.

Tech industries have the greatest need for new talent, but ironically the tech industry's attrition rate is also the highest. Startups must work aggressively against time to survive. Therefore they often encourage a self-driven environment. In the process, many startups may not provide a supportive work environment, one in which they can be open about their challenges and get the necessary managerial support. This support system can go a long way in making them feel secure and valued. Satisfied employees often refer prospective new employees and persuade them to accept job offers.

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