Closing the Cybersecurity Skills Gap, One Professional at a Time

Posted by Mike Fitch on Jan 27, 2021

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Globally, there’s a cybersecurity skill gap that is quickly reaching a point of crisis, from small businesses through giant enterprises. Right now, the demand for cybersecurity skills far exceeds the current supply of qualified, skilled professionals; in fact, there are nearly 2.7 million open cybersecurity roles around the world, including more than 450,000 in the US alone. Colleges and universities are bolstering their cybersecurity degree programs, but at the rate of cybersecurity change, degree curriculum is struggling to keep up, leaving additional education needed for new graduates who are entering the workforce. This need for cybersecurity education is putting more pressure on organizations to upskill current and prospective professionals to fill open roles.


This past week, TD SYNNEX launched the Passage Program, delivered through the first-of-its-kind Cyber Range, to help upskill cybersecurity professionals looking to take the next step in their careers. While you can read the details of the program in the press release, we wanted to dig a little deeper and get some behind-the-scenes perspective from some of the bright minds that have built the vision for the Passage Program and are executing it now today. We sat down with Marc Fujimoto, program manager, Caleb Guy, curriculum manager, and Tracy Holtz, executive sponsor, who each play a vital role in the rollout and success of the Passage Program.


Finding the solution: From an idea to reality

Marc gives kudos to Brett Scott, solutions development director at TD SYNNEX, credit for the original idea of the Passage Program. Brett, along with members of the Security Solutions team, recognized the growing skill gap, but that there was nobody there to address this ongoing problem. While there’s been a large boom in online programs, boot camps and resources that each offered various components of cybersecurity training, many were unable to package them together to make participants fully job-ready. It’s one thing to build a strong educational background, but another to have the realistic business acumen to combat actual threats. The two Passage Program tracks, Placement Program and the Upskill Initiative, help professionals achieve proficiency in two of the more in-demand roles, Security Operations Center Tier 1 Analyst and Junior Penetration Tester.


In addition to catching recent graduates up to speed, we wanted the Passage Program to also be a critical resource for current professionals who have been several years removed from their formal education so that they can learn modern-day trends and methodology. Many professionals that fit into this category might have been more of a cybersecurity generalist, where today’s demand gap calls for more specialists. Marc equates it to the healthcare system: finding specialists in a precise field is becoming easier than finding a general practitioner or family doctor. When you look at open cybersecurity positions, entry-level jobs are calling for 2–3 years of specialized experience, so as a recent graduate, how confident would you feel in applying to these positions? The Passage Program is helping to build that confidence.


Thinking the unthinkable: The risks of doing nothing

I asked about the risks if the 2.7 million-job skills gap continues to widen, or even if it stays the same and received a very conclusive answer: “It’s all bad.” They equated it to buying a house without a front door in a neighborhood with a reputation of home invasions. If these jobs aren’t filled or organizations don’t put a definitive focus on ransomware protection, blockchain technologies, backup and recovery systems and other cybersecurity methods, it won’t be a matter of “if” an attack will happen, it will be a matter of “when.” These implications aren’t just financial either; of course, cyber breaches are costing companies millions from lost business, downtime, threat identification and recovery (the average breach costs organizations $4.24M, up from $3.86M just a year ago), but it’s also costing organizations significant damage to their brand reputation, not just with customers, but with the prospective talent that could have filled the roles that would prevent these attacks.


TD SYNNEX has built relationships and partnerships with world-class vendors across the IT ecosystem and that interconnectivity allows us to tear down barriers and stay at the forefront of cybersecurity evolutions. Our goal with enablement programs — like the Passage Program — is to help increase the awareness of how much easier it is to become a threat actor and how to prevent destructive breaches. Threat actors, who once needed significant backend knowledge to penetrate a database, can now pay for ransomware-as-a-service, making it more accessible for more groups and individuals to target certain businesses or industries.


Above and beyond: Soft skills for future success

Starting early last year, TD SYNNEX got to work on not only building out a dynamic, relevant curriculum for the Passage Program but identifying ways for participants to be more prepared for the workforce once their program completes. Built into the Passage Program are critical soft skills to help participants have the know-how to find, apply for and get open positions. Beyond learning offensive and defensive methodologies and technologies, the Passage Program also teaches participants the raw, foundational knowledge to job-readiness, including resume building, interviewing and other intangibles that might not be addressed in other IT enablement programs.


This combination of technical training + soft skills will help our candidates better market themselves as they enter or re-enter the workforce. Candidates that meet our minimum requirements and navigate their way through the program can expect to spend about 6–7 weeks in the program before a final assessment, which is handcrafted to simulate a realistic scenario of what it’s like to work as a cybersecurity professional. This serves as an extension of the TD SYNNEX Cyber Range, our interactive cyber playground that we use to help navigate partners through simulated security threats.


Making an impact: Using personal experience as the fuel for the success of others

For Caleb, Marc and Tracy, there’s a very defined ambiance that the Passage Program is more than just a work assignment; it has a deep-rooted impact that helps fuel their passion for making the program a huge success not just for TD SYNNEX, but for the entire technology ecosystem. As the executive sponsor, Tracy identified our commitment to supporting the channel partner base, giving them another unique offering to help boost cybersecurity success.


Marc pointed to his past experience in the healthcare industry and service in the US Marine Corps. Having the ability to merge his tactical mindset with his business mindset has helped him find an ideal role as a mentor for candidates who make their way through the program.


“To be able to mentor and support the development of others has been huge for me. It pays me back in a way that a job paycheck never could. To see candidates shift from where they started to where they are now, having confidence in their competencies to go out there and land a job has just been so great.”


Marc also noted that he hopes this program can alleviate the number of his least-favorite types of calls: when a partner is breached. “The most difficult part of this job is when a partner or their end customer has been breached. They’re stuck and unsure who to call. For me, I would love that to never occur again. It’s so heartbreaking to hear that pain, and I would love to see that we can truly make an impact and alleviate the pain.”


Caleb sees a lot of himself in many of the candidates that have been and will be going through the Passage Program.


“I’ve been around cybersecurity my whole life; my dad was very interested in cybersecurity, so it was something we were always aware of. I went to school for cybersecurity and after graduation, I thought I was completely set up for a job but was immediately rejected. I realized my academia did not prepare me the way I thought it would. Now that I’m talking to a lot of these candidates who are saying, ‘I’ve got my degree, I’ve got certifications, why can’t I find a job?’, the struggle is relatable and it’s not necessarily fair.”


Caleb hopes the Passage Program will get people started on the right path and become that first domino to fall that leads to greater change in the advancement of cybersecurity.

About the Author

TD Synnex Editor

Mike Fitch
Content marketer and communicator through and through. ASU grad with more than 10 years of B2B tech marketing/communications experience.