JUST IN: Pentagon Desperately Seeking Cyber Workers
Air Force photo
The Defense Department, like the United States as a whole, is facing a massive shortfall of cyber talent to the tune of 24 percent below current need, and the department is hoping its new cyber workforce strategy implementation plan will close the gap in the coming years.
The implementation plan released Aug. 3 is the follow on to the 2023-2027 Cyber Workforce Strategy the deputy secretary of defense signed in March. Mark Gorak, principal director for resources and analysis for the department’s chief information officer, told reporters that the plan should lead to cutting the workforce deficit in half within two years.
“To address our shortage and to keep up with the demand, we must fundamentally change the way we're doing business,” he said.
The strategy identified four problem areas: a lack of common criteria for cyber workforce requirements; a need for skills-based targeting of candidates to fill capability gaps; a shortage of skills development programs; and attrition. That led to the four pillars of the strategy and implementation plan: identification, recruitment, development and retention.
The implementation plan includes 22 objectives and 38 initiatives, Gorak said.
“I think the biggest change in these initiatives is how we go after recruitment — looking at the whole spectrum,” he said. “How do we go after education? It’s a national challenge, it's not just a DoD challenge.”
The initiatives are in line with what the department, the government and industry have been saying for years: the key is reaching students in kindergarten through 12th grade and getting them interested in cyber and science, technology, engineering and math more broadly and moving them through the pipeline into serving their country, he said.
“I view this as a partnership, both private and public,” he continued. “We have a lot of initiatives in here with exchange programs with private industry, as well as with other public entities, other federal agencies, so we can exchange that talent back and forth, and keeping track of that talent as we go through time.”
Closing the cyber workforce gap will involve measures to boost recruitment and retention. This will apply across the military, civilian and contractor components of the workforce, each of which includes about 75,000 positions, he said.
“On the military side, we actually don't have a problem recruiting in the cyber workforce, because the military provides the training and education to train you in this and then they provide you the experience,” he said, adding that the challenge for military cyber positions is in retention.
“On the civilian side, we have both a recruiting and retention challenge, he added. “And again, I look at it as a partnership with industry — how do we increase those partnerships and moving between each of those between [the] public and private sector? So, I think we have to get better at doing that to address this.”
The defense department’s cyber workforce woes are a microcosm of the national shortage of cyber talent. During a June 22 House Homeland Security Committee subcommittee on cybersecurity and infrastructure protection hearing, members and witnesses stated the United States has 700,000 vacant cybersecurity positions.
Will Markow, vice president of applied research at labor market analytics firm Lightcast, said that even if everyone in the training pipeline went into a cybersecurity position, there would still be a shortage of 200,000 workers.
“This means we are stepping onto the digital battlefield missing nearly a third of our army, and the consequences of this talent shortage echo across our country,” he said during the hearing.
Even with the rollout of the Defense Department’s cyber workforce implementation plan, it will take months to begin to see results. The plan requires the identification of offices of primary and coordinating responsibility that will then stand up action planning groups and develop action plans for the Defense Department’s chief information officer to approve.
Gorak said that the department already has most of the authorities it needs in terms of relocation, retention and recruiting bonuses and excepted service hiring.
“Now it's a matter of getting the word out and actually utilizing those authorities to maintain and attract not all of our talent, but the best talent,” he said.