The U.S. Government needs a robust cyber workforce immediately and for the foreseeable future. The challenge in achieving such a large team of geeks is threefold; it must recruit skilled young individuals, it must continuously train them, and it must improve its ability to retain its workforce. The trouble with recruiting is that the government can never match the potential salaries that Google, Amazon, or Apple offer. Those innovative companies also keep the workflow interesting and dynamic for their best and brightest hires.
Nevertheless, the U.S. government must continue to support K-12 education in technology, math, and science in order to have the human capital capable of filling the estimated 800,000 jobs in cyber by 2018. Overall, the government benefits by motivating young students to become “cyber-defenders” and may have an easier time hiring students that have developed through U.S. government funded training.
The chief problem with training those who have been successfully recruited is that it must be continuous. The cyber workforce must be lifelong learners at heart because of the rapid pace of change in technology. The U.S. government needs to do a better job at making training easy to obtain. Standard operating procedures should be reevaluated so that employees can easily receive funding and days off to attend conferences, certification classes, and other forms of training by outside organizations and companies. Many of the best conferences and training classes are offered by private entities not the government.
Finally, the retention component in building a cyber workforce is critical. After spending large sums of money to find, recruit, and train individuals, the U.S. government must be able to hold on to it employees. The best way to do this is by having good leadership. Managers need to understand what motivates their staff to work for the government and continuously accommodate towards those motivations. Some employees may like have an energetic work environment that keeps the daily routine varied and exciting. Others may feel motivated in simply protecting America and this must be emphasized when managers recognize their hard work. Another key point for retention is the need for clear promotion paths within the cyber workforce and government as a whole. Lastly, senior government leaders must push mission ownership down the management chain to the lowest possible level to increase the overall buy-in of the staff.
I encourage all readers to continue the discussion of these 3 key challenge areas in the Federal Cyber Workforce in the comments section, on Twitter, and elsewhere.