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Experts see growing need for cybersecurity workers as one in six jobs go unfilled

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This is the weekly Careers newsletter.

Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

A few years ago, Francois Guay, founder of the Canadian Cybersecurity Network, an organization of more than 17,000 cybersecurity professionals, remembers interviewing a candidate for a cybersecurity analyst role.

When he asked the woman about her salary expectations, she sheepishly quoted a number that was 40-per-cent less than what she could demand and likely get.

Mr. Guay said he chatted with the woman briefly about her bright prospects in the rapidly growing field of cybersecurity. More importantly, he told her to never sell herself short.

He says his sage advice holds equally true today for cybersecurity workers in the tech sector experiencing layoffs.

The cybersecurity sector in Canada has remained insulated from the job losses because of the shortage of skilled workers. And because more organizations have come to realize the importance of protecting customers and their data, there’s a glut of opportunities, Mr. Guay said.

Cybersecurity is the practice of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks and data from malicious attacks.

“The cybersecurity market currently is extremely promising for professionals who have at least three years of experience,” Mr. Guay said. “If you are technically skilled, have good business sense, are analytical, can learn quickly and possess good communication skills, you are gold.”

Mr. Guay, who also founded CanadianCybersecurityJobs.com, a North American recruitment company, foresees the sunny outlook continuing for the foreseeable future as artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing help cybersecurity professionals analyze potential cyberthreats in real time.

The native of Squamish, B.C., warns that corporations that do not protect their infrastructure and data of their customers will soon become relics of a bygone age.

Recent high-profile cyberattacks on Indigo Books & Music Inc., the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and grocery retailer Empire Co. Ltd., which operates Sobeys, Safeway, IGA and FreshCo, highlight the need for cybersecurity experts.

According to Statistics Canada, about one-fifth of businesses are affected by attacks. While that is the average, the rate is 37 per cent for large businesses. Canadian companies spent $9.7-billion to detect or prevent cybersecurity incidents in 2021, an increase of $2.8-billion from 2019.

The market

A report from the non-profit Information and Communications Technology Council shows that currently one in six cybersecurity jobs go unfilled in Canada. Although there about 124,000 cybersecurity professionals in the country, the current estimate reveals that’s still 25,000 workers short. And this number is expected to grow in the coming years.

The report reveals that even though Canadian companies offer lucrative compensation packages, issues relating to the country’s cybersecurity shortfall include burnout, students opting out of cybersecurity education and competition from even higher cybersecurity salaries in the U.S.

Another report, LinkedIn’s Jobs on the Rise, lists security engineers as one of Canada’s most in-demand professions for 2023.

One of the biggest challenges aspiring cybersecurity professionals in the country face is trying to change the mindset of employers who only want to hire applicants who have “Canadian experience.” This shortchanges newcomers to the country, students and others who want to transition to cybersecurity but are wary of doing so, Mr. Guay said.

“The current hiring culture in Canada needs to change to one of developing and growing talent, instead of simply complaining there are not enough skilled workers or worse, waiting on the government or educational institutions to develop more graduates,” he said.

“This is not just about education or government funding, but about companies willing to provide hands-on training and experience to the next generation of cybersecurity experts.”

Data: the new gold

In an Indeed and Glassdoor report listing the “Top 20 best jobs in Canada,” data engineers and data analysts occupy the coveted top two spots. Thirteen of the top 20 jobs in the list are from the tech sector.

This does not surprise Jeremy Shaki, chief executive officer of Lighthouse Labs, a tech education company. Web development bootcamp happens to be one of Lighthouse Labs’ most popular courses, but in recent years, there has been a sharp surge in interest for data and cybersecurity programs and courses.

“As transformative technologies gain widespread adoption, there’s a heightened appetite in the industry for professionals with the requisite skill set to collect, interpret and manage large amounts of data and information,” Mr. Shaki said. “In terms of soft skills, communication and emotional intelligence are important as ever. Communicating clearly and effectively will help workers stand out.”

Mr. Shaki and Mr. Guay both say workers who have a growth mindset, are adaptable and can remain nimble through changes will be well-positioned to weather upheavals in the tech sector.

Data-driven decisions

Mr. Shaki said his ability to organize, infer and grasp data gives him a competitive advantage.

“If you don’t understand how to organize and make sense of data, then you’re likely ignoring information that could improve your organization’s decision-making process,” he said. “Anyone who knows me knows I work on instinct, but those instincts are heavily sharpened by my growing skills in understanding and interpreting data appropriately.”

Reskilling and relearning

One of the ways workers can become indispensable to their employer is through upskilling, the experts note. Part-time online courses allow workers to upgrade their skills and knowledge without quitting their day jobs, Mr. Shaki said.

Cybersecurity is a complex environment where a worker’s knowledge grows over years, but the threats change constantly, said the Canadian Cybersecurity Network’s Mr. Guay. He added the best road to success in cybersecurity would be to get a degree and relevant certifications.

Lighthouse Labs’ Mr. Shaki outlined four skills required to excel in data analytics:

  • Problem solving: There’s a difference between learning and becoming a data analyst, he says. While there’s no prerequisite needed, at a minimum, you should enjoy problem solving.
  • Curiosity: The best data analysts are curious individuals who love to dig deeper and uncover new insights.
  • Grit: Becoming a data analyst requires hard work and resilience.
  • Soft skills: Technical skills such as programming, data literacy, machine learning and cybersecurity will no doubt set workers apart, but the technical skills will need to be complemented by requisite soft skills, Mr. Shaki said.

“Keep pushing yourself to evolve,” Mr. Shaki advises. The tech industry “was built on change, and those that have been ultra-successful weren’t 40-year veterans of the industry, but upstarts who saw change as an opportunity to build new solutions – solutions that improved upon how things were being done.”

What I’m reading around the web

  • Employees expecting increases in salary, remote working and four-day work weeks will be disappointed, says this article on Yahoo Finance. According to a global report, employers offering pay raises are not being generous, and there’s a resistance for remote work.
  • This article on the University of British Columbia website discusses drone technology and how the university uses drones to deliver medical supplies to isolated communities across Canada.
  • In her blog Art of Leadership, leadership coach Suzi McAlpine shares tips on how leaders should facilitate meetings instead of dominating the sessions. The blog discusses various scenarios and the action leaders must take in each case.

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