Cyber skills gap keeps widening, report warns

A report by cybersecurity organisation (ISC)² suggests that the cyber skills gap is growing faster than it is being filled and that Europe might become an international laggard as technological trends and upcoming regulations make securing a cyber workforce ever more pressing.

The cybersecurity workforce gap analysis by (ISC)², a non-profit group, revealed that the demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals is growing faster than the workforce pool.  The analysis revealed that Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) lack 317,050 cybersecurity professionals. 

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This is equivalent to an increase of approximately 60% over a year. To put this in perspective, the 2022 Global Cybersecurity Workforce Gap increased by 26% compared to the previous year.

Compared to other regions, the EMEA region displays the greatest increase in the cyber talent gap. 

Reasons for the steep increase in demand for cybersecurity are the introduction of new technologies like Artificial Intelligence or quantum computing and the trend by companies to switch to more digital tools, which need cyber protection. 

The mismatch also indicates a lack of management and oversight, which heightens the risk of cyberattacks in EU organisations, which cannot defend themselves against cybercrime properly.

Geopolitical tensions related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine only worsened this lack of preparation.

Another reason for the rise in the cyber skill talent gap is the introduction of new policies that will require more skilled professionals in this field.

According to the EU’s Agency for Cybersecurity, ENISA, the number of cyber-skilled professionals needed is expected to increase with the revised Networks and Information Directive (NIS2) introducing specific obligations for entities considered essential or important for society.

The shortage of skilled professionals could expand further with the upcoming regulatory framework,” an ENISA spokesperson told EURACTIV.

The European Commission’s response to this skills gap was the Cyber Skills Academy, meant to bring together the different public and private initiatives for retraining the workforce and measure their aggregate impact.

Other initiatives include the European Skills Pact to match skills and the labour market more accurately and a database to search and find cybersecurity programmes offered by Higher Education Institute (CyberHEAD).

The EU in global comparison

In a separate report, (ISC)² analysed the cybersecurity policies and approaches of the EU, the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, and Singapore to understand the dynamics of the workforce gap in cybersecurity, estimated at around 3.4 million people worldwide. 

The study found that the different jurisdictions adopted similar initiatives, especially to retain young individuals in cybersecurity professions. The report also pointed out that initiatives generally lack clarity in their obligations and effectiveness, particularly if they are non-binding.

The skill shortage reflects limitations of education, training systems, and policies to encourage and prepare the needed cyber professionals. Common barriers to cyber participation include a lack of basic digital skills and financial hurdles.

“The current training provision may need more flexibility to respond to rapidly changing skills needs in the sector and to be accessible to a diverse group of learners,” the report stated.

The case of Germany

A study by the German Economic Institute released in February estimated that the shortage of qualified workers in digitisation, of which cybersecurity experts are a part, could reach almost 106,000 people by 2026.

Likewise, for roughly every second vacancy, there were no suitably qualified unemployed individuals nationwide in 2021. By 2026, the percentage is expected to rise by another 23%.

To change these dynamics by facilitating entry into the field of cybersecurity and attracting workers from abroad, Germany launched initiatives such as MINT-Nachwus and Make it in Germany.

“The situation is expected to change only slowly, as changes in the education system only have a medium- to long-term effect,” explained Vera Demary, a digital expert at German Economic Institute.

On top of that, in Germany, education is the responsibility of the federal states. It makes it harder to introduce identical measures as the educational landscape differs from region to region, and German schools do not have the same priorities nationwide.

Alexander Müller, one of the liberals from the FDP party, who proposed a change in recruitment policy for the German armed forces last Friday (28 April), suggested that the approach needs to be multi-dimensional.

“On the one hand, we need to provide the best educational and training prospects, and on the other, we need to open the public sector to new employment models,” Müller told EURACTIV.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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