An updated National Initiative for Cybersecurity Strategic Plan, called NICE, relies heavily on human resources departments in several industry sectors to lead the way in meeting a national demand for skilled cybersecurity employees.

The plan comes from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NIST says the push is necessary not only because of the current cyber threat environment but also because the number of job openings in the cybersecurity field greatly exceeds the number of trained employees.


One way to fill the jobs is working with HR departments to encourage their companies to engage displaced and underemployed workers in cybersecurity educational programs, says Rodney Petersen, director of NICE, which was formed in 2012.

Working with government, universities and industries, NICE has developed a plan with three core goals: accelerating skills development, providing a learning community to strengthen training, measure outcomes and diversify the cybersecurity workforce; and providing support to enhance recruitment, hiring, development and retention of cybersecurity professionals.

“Cybersecurity vulnerabilities trace to human error, so how can we close gaps?” Petersen asks. The answer is to identify the gaps and tailor specific programs on closing specific gaps. To do that, NICE seeks collaboration with the private sector, working with others who share their interests. “We’re looking for radical new ideas that disrupt the status quo,” he adds.

For instance, employers are telling schools that they aren’t graduating cybersecurity students with the skills they need. Employers, Petersen says, need students who have hands-on training in cybersecurity, pointing to the need to improve the educational process beyond just reading books and watching PowerPoint presentations. “The challenge is to ensure they not only are learning, but to have methods to evaluate their knowledge and skills.”

While the need for a greatly enlarged cybersecurity workforce exists now, the threat is not going away, so NICE advocates cybersecurity awareness programs starting in elementary school, stimulating career exploration in middle school, and offering cybersecurity career preparedness in high school.

“It is widely recognized that to sustain the pipeline needed for a robust cybersecurity workforce that we must introduce students to career opportunities as early as possible and ensure that their academic preparation in secondary schools propel them into higher education,” according to the strategic plan.

Under a grant from NIST, CompTIA and Burning Glass are developing a Cybersecurity Jobs Heat Map, a visualization tool that will show the demand for cybersecurity jobs across the nation.

Tools already available include the DHS Cybersecurity Workforce Development Toolkit from the Department of Homeland Security and The HR Professional’s Guide to a Cyber-Secure Workforce, from the Council on Cyber Security. The Center for Internet Security also has a wide range of cybersecurity resources.

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