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Adult Viewpoints 2021 Survey: The Cybersecurity Skills Gap & Barriers to Entry

Champlain College Online

National Survey Finds Americans Demonstrate an Interest in  Working in the Field of Cybersecurity if Cyber Organizations Address Workforce Trends around High Expectations of Prior Training, Lack of Minority Representation, and Toxic Work Environments 

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Burlington, VT – October 26, 2021 – A new cybersecurity survey from Champlain College Online examined why an industry projected to grow 33% through 2030 with an unemployment rate of 0% and more than 460,000 job openings available across the United States is in the midst of a skills gap. The survey finds that despite nearly 30% of non-cyber workers in America being willing to consider a career in cybersecurity, there are three distinct industry-wide barriers preventing professionals from entering the field of cybersecurity, including:

  • High expectations of past training
  • Lack of diversity and inclusion
  • Toxic work environments/culture 

Training Expectations 

  • Of survey respondents currently working in cyber, 86% who identify as cybersecurity hiring managers indicate that the market expects entry-level cyber candidates to have vast industry experience.
  • Of the respondents who showed interest in pursuing a career in cybersecurity, 56% said employer-sponsored training and education would motivate them to pursue the path.
  • Nearly half of the respondents (46%) interested in cyber careers mentioned that tuition assistance from an employer would be a motivating factor to pursue a career in the field of cybersecurity.
  • Overall, 72% of respondents estimate some type of university accreditation is required to enter the cybersecurity field.

"I believe that organizations with larger IT departments have a social responsibility to contribute to solving this problem by establishing a hiring quota for qualified, non-experienced cybersecurity professionals,” said Sérgio Tenreiro de Magalhães, Ph.D., co-chair of the cybersecurity programs at Champlain College Online, when asked how cyber organizations can make room for individuals coming to the field without significant relevant work experience. 

Diversity

  • Lack of diversity remains another significant barrier - 90% of respondents believe it’s important to increase diversity in the cyber workforce. This includes 59% that say female-identifying individuals need more representation in the field and 57% that say BIPOC need greater representation.
  • Wage disparities were a significant challenge to diversity acknowledged by respondents - 28%  believe minorities earning lower wages than similarly skilled colleagues is the main barrier impacting a diverse cyber workforce.

Toxic Environments

  • 81% of respondents feel that toxic work environments would prevent them from exploring a career in cybersecurity.
  • Of respondents likely to pursue a career in cyber, 44% say toxic work environments impede their decision to explore cybersecurity careers.

"Organizations need to acknowledge toxic work environments exist," said Kathleen Hyde, co-chair of the cybersecurity programs at Champlain College Online. "There’s a reluctance to acknowledge this problem and sometimes, even when it is apparent, it’s dismissed rather than addressed despite the fact that toxic work environments zap productivity and, in the long run, result in higher employee turnover and greater risk/liability to the organization."

Additional Key Findings

In addition to the skills gap and barriers to entry the field of cybersecurity is facing, the survey points to factors that would motivate survey respondents to join the cyber field and addresses the impact of recent cyber events on survey respondents.

Factors that Motivate Individuals to Pursue Cyber Careers
  • The majority of survey respondents (69%) ranked job security as the top positive trait about cyber careers. 
  • More than half of survey respondents (61%) said that protecting consumers from hackers is one of the top positives about working in cybersecurity roles. This shows that respondents recognize the need for cyber workers and see an altruistic benefit to the field.
  • Of the non-cyber respondents who showed interest in pursuing a cyber career, 56% said employer-sponsored training and education would motivate them to select a career in cyber.
Impact of Recent Cyber Events on Survey Respondents
  • Most American adults (nearly 80%) have taken action to protect themselves following the recent cyber events. Cyber professionals were more likely to act (96%) than the general population not in cyber roles (70%).
  • The top action taken by respondents was updating passwords or using two-factor authentication (55%). This was notably higher for those in a cyber-related role (63%) than for the general population (52%).
  • In addition, about half (49%) say they’re actively reading about cybersecurity best practices to better protect themselves on their own.
  • Overall, 63% of survey respondents believe more people need to become educated in cybersecurity.

Survey Methodology

Champlain College Online commissioned Full Circle Research, INC. to field questions for its online survey from August 24-26, 2021 with a randomized, nationally representative sample of 1,011 U.S. adults ages 20-55. The results are weighted to the U.S. Census data to be nationally representative with a confidence level of 95%.

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