Qualified cyber pros in high demand but scarce supply

Government needs security professionals with certification, clearance but is having trouble finding them

Knowledge is king in the IT world, and there is no better demonstration of that trait on a resume than a professional certification. But qualification documentation is moving away from traditional areas such as network administration to accommodate new skills such as cybersecurity.

In fact, cybersecurity and other qualified IT security skills are in high demand in the federal government. A recent study by Clearancejobs.com and Dice.com found that professionals with the right IT skills and an active government security clearance earned 12 percent more than non-cleared personnel. In the Washington, D.C., area, the pay bump is 20 percent.


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But finding the right people can be difficult. The report noted that most of the qualified cybersecurity experts are in the private sector. 

However, recent events have made cybersecurity a hot-button issue in the government, said Evan Lesser, Clearance Jobs' managing director. He said it is one subject that is not on the list for government budget cuts, especially after last year’s major IT security incidents, such as the Google hacking incident. “So much happened in 2010 that it opened up the government’s eyes,” he said.

All the extra government attention has led to spike in hiring qualified personnel with clearances and certifications. “Security certifications are truly a requirement at this point,” Lesser said. Besides clearances, skill certifications are also making inroads in federal IT circles, although their utility outside of the private sector has been the subject of some debate. He said non-Defense Department federal agencies may begin requiring a range of IT certifications, especially for cybersecurity.

But the current demand for qualified personnel is outstripping the supply. Although government job postings are up, Lesser said that these cybersecurity positions often require a high-level security clearance coupled with polygraph testing to meet DOD and intelligence community directives. These hurdles greatly diminish the pool of available candidates.

“You’re not looking at thousands of people nationwide; you’re looking at hundreds who meet such strict criteria,” he said.

To help increase the cyber workforce, industry, academia and government have launched career tracks to attract young people. Lesser noted that most of the universities in the Washington, D.C., area offer cybersecurity programs to meet regional demand. University courses and degrees are also a good choice for IT professionals interested in shifting careers to cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity and cyber warfare are relatively new professions with exacting entrance requirements. However, they also represent one of the few areas in government IT that is both growing and unlikely to see funding cuts anytime soon. For the right candidates, the profession has open horizons, Lesser said.

 “How many times in IT do you see a field open up with new possibilities and practically unlimited budget money?” he said.


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