How we were able to reskill for the cyber workforce shortage
The cybersecurity field enjoys exceptionally low rates of unemployment. But it’s not all good news. In a pre-pandemic study conducted by (ISC)2, an international, nonprofit membership association for information security leaders, the global cybersecurity workforce gap needs to grow by 145% to meet the demand for skilled cyber talent.Organizations must find creative, unconventional ways to address the shortage—including sourcing and developing new cyber talent using aptitude assessments and reskilling programs.
Through our contract support, Booz Allen is responsible for the protection of over 80% of federal government networks. The demand for skilled cyber talent is one Booz Allen faces as an organization daily. As a firm, we also recognize cybersecurity is both an information assurance and risk management discipline, and our existing workforce already has the aptitude or potential to excel in this discipline. So in response to the cyber talent shortage, we created the Booz Allen Cyber Tech Excellence Program.
How does an organization figure out which employees are suited for reskilling if they’ve never worked in cyber before? Once funds are invested in these reskilling programs, how does the organization determine that the program is showing a return on investment?
To identify individuals who are most likely to succeed in cyber environments, Booz Allen turned to a cyber aptitude assessment. Evidence suggests that aptitude tests measuring a wide variety of cyber-relevant personality and cognitive factors can be used as predictive tools for cyber role success, including favorable pass rates for some of the most widely recognized cybersecurity certifications.
Using the results of aptitude testing, the firm equips targeted staff for success in cyber work roles through a multidimensional development program. Typical boot camps throw participants straight into the complex world of cyber, leading to high drop-out or low pass rates. But Booz Allen’s cohort-based program focuses on participants who are assimilated into the world of cyber and are provided with a variety of resources. The program combines learning modalities, using in-person/online training, hands-on labs for practice, a virtual environment to connect with peers, and live Red versus Blue Team open-range opportunities, along with exposure and networking with subject matter experts and firm leaders. Cyber Tech Excellence’s mentorship aspect drives positive outcomes—the cohort members from the last cycle are paired with new members of the program and are instrumental in developing a plan to ensure that the next cohort is successful.
We recently expanded the program and launched a Core+ program for intermediate to advanced cyber professionals, which includes teaching courses typically offered at the annual Black Hat USA conference—think cloud security, threat modeling, and cyber threat intelligence analysis.
The Cyber Tech Excellence Program has established a track record of success. The current average pass rate of the program across multiple cohorts is 89% and the average retention rate is 91%. Graduates also showed they had a 5% higher than average level of satisfaction in the annual employee satisfaction survey—and a likelihood of greater retention patterns, too. By using validated aptitude testing, we’re also overcoming risks to bias traditionally seen in cyber. As of August 2020, 34% of program graduates were women (compared to industry averages closer to 14%), and 51% identified as minorities (compared to industry averages hovering at 26%). Most importantly, Cyber Tech Excellence employees who completed the program are putting their training to work on cyber missions for our clients. Our pipeline to talent is expanding and, by sourcing from our existing workforce, we are bringing multi-functional thinking into the most complex cyber challenges.
Our cyber aptitude test development and reskilling program approach is showing promise for more widespread use. Aptitude tests allow the identification of individuals who are more likely to perform successfully in a cyber discipline. By incorporating aptitude assessments in the recruiting and selection process, organizations can expand beyond traditional hiring targets, and applicants who might otherwise be intimidated by cybersecurity get the encouragement that they have what it takes to thrive in the cyber environment. Cyber Tech Excellence is a proven reskilling foundation – one any organization seeking creative, unconventional ways to expand the cyber talent pool and accommodate cyber-based aptitude assessments into their personnel development programs could leverage.
The future is bright for cyber talent development at Booz Allen and for our clients in the federal cybersecurity space. Programs like Cyber Tech Excellence continue to expand, working on new ways to open the cyber pipeline and bridge the gap from one cyber role to the next.
For more information regarding your cyber workforce strategy, contact us.