Make the wrong career move, and you just may become structurally unemployed

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A recent Washington Post article, “The great jobs mismatch”, points out that structural unemployment is caused by a mismatch between types of positions available and those who have the wrong skill sets to meet them. The information technology area, particularly information security, has one of the lowest levels of unemployment of any field and a high demand rate.  So why be concerned about the possibility of structural unemployment in the government information security field?  

At a recent Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education (CISSE) gathering, the subject of education and training was discussed at great length. It seems colleges and universities view their role as those who educate and develop students into well-rounded problem solvers, whereas the training community views its role as ‘skills developer’ for jobs.  

During the Colloquium, much of the discussion revolved around whether colleges and universities should change their curriculum to meet the demands of the workforce. An interesting subset of that discussion involved attempts to identify the accurate number of existing federal cyber security workers and the debate over how many specialists, or ‘cyber warriors’, vs. generalists are currently in demand. Given the wide variety of opinion about where we are as a workforce, where we will be in 2015 and how demand will vary by skill, it is no wonder that colleges and universities are lacking direction on curriculum development and that government agencies are lacking prospective employment talent. If we can’t accurately project where the profession is headed, how does one best navigate education, training and job opportunities in the career field?  

Regardless of current numbers and specialty area, cybersecurity is a vibrant and growing field with a very wide range of positions.  So should one area be favored over another while seeking opportunities?  Let’s consider the facts:

  • The career field is growing rapidly. One CISSE speaker noted that the unemployment rate for computer science degree professionals is at a low of 2.5%.
  • Career growth will continue to be broad-based given that there are skilled, technical and managerial positions that remain unfilled.  
  • Those referred to as ‘cyber warriors,’ or those positioned as technical specialists (in the areas, for example, of penetration testing or coding of attack tools) will find fewer job opportunities outside of that technical area. One academician suggested that if software products are engineered better, over time, the need for penetration testers could even possibly diminish.  

Probably the most important point that everyone can agree upon is that technology is constantly changing. If you build your career in a specialty area without a broad background to back you up, you may end up in a role that becomes obsolete and find yourself structurally unemployed.

As to whether colleges and universities should change their curriculum to satisfy industry needs for workforce development, industry will always need problem solvers who are well-rounded and well-educated.  Perhaps the technical gap in the workforce could best be addressed at the two-year schools and by the specialized training organizations. 

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