The yawning skills gap is now taken for granted, but training organisation WithYouWithMe has just been getting on with the task – and by the end of this year, the organisation will have single-handedly helped over 1,100 Australian Defence Force (ADF) veterans secure cyber security jobs.

That’s a strong success in an industry where years of aggressive hiring has left slim pickings for organisations that want to fill out their cyber security capabilities.

Many organisations are focusing training efforts on getting the most out of their existing staff while others target “untapped talent pools” that have fallen outside of the traditional scope of recruitment.

The right skills are already there

An AustCyber Sector Competitiveness Plan noted that Australia will need nearly 18,000 new cyber security workers by 2026.

Skills-hungry companies are actually more willing to accommodate and train workers with the right attitude, WithYouWithMe CEO for Australia and New Zealand Tom Larter told Information Age, but the key to closing the gap is identifying the right potential candidates – not by their skills, but by their attitude.

WithYouWithMe uses aptitude and personality testing to identify each candidate’s core traits and potential suitability for ICT roles.

The firm – which regularly fronts its candidates at job fairs and skills expos – has developed a range of courses in cyber security and robotic process automation (RPA) that candidates can complete online in 6 to 12 weeks, giving them the skills to show employers they can be an asset.

Many veterans had never even considered careers in cyber, but six-month retention rates are over 90 per cent – a sign, Larter said, that organisations can get the right staff by focusing on candidates’ underlying qualities first, then worrying about specific qualifications later.

Military workers “have the right attitude and culture to work in cyber,” he explained.

“They’re leaders, they have a long working life ahead of them, and they already possess some of the soft skills that employers are looking for. All we need to do is to give them the hard skills for the job.”

Addressing the skills mismatch

Those hard skills – in areas like cyber security monitoring, incident response, penetration testing, and consulting – have become increasingly difficult to secure in a market that is soaking up available talent as quickly as it becomes available.

A wealth of postgraduate initiatives has sought to help retrain experienced professionals, while many policymakers have followed Gonski’s lead by focusing on supply-side training initiatives controversially seeking to generate enthusiasm about ICT amongst school students.

Yet conventional training isn’t necessarily producing candidates that match the market’s requirements: WithYouWithMe recently analysed government jobs data and concluded current policies are producing an oversupply of skills that the market doesn’t actually need.

This meant that 74 per cent of students studying society and culture – including fields like law, political studies and International studies – won’t be able to find a job in the field they trained for.

Taking the next step

Targeting recent military retirees, who tend to be around 30 years old after an average 7 to 10 years’ service in a broad range of trades, has proven fertile ground for the firm – which was founded in 2017 and now employs over 80 staff locally, as well as a 10-strong team taking its model to the US market.

Around 5,500 people leave the ADF every year and, last year, 4,000 of those signed up for WithYouWithMe.

Some 756 staff have been retrained and placed in jobs to date, and 376 more will complete their retraining – and be offered to a skills-famished industry – before year’s end.

“We’re pretty much attracting all of the job seekers as they leave the military,” Larter said, noting that extensive personality testing often guided veterans into careers that are very different to what they were doing in the ADF.

“People want good-paying jobs, and we have been trying to help veterans understand their full potential, so they can obtain some of those,” he said.

“When we asked companies what they really wanted, their responses weren’t overly technical – and they all said they were willing to do training to get people ready.”

“They just want people that understand how to defend; have a strong will to win; and are curious.”

WithYouWithMe placed 13 staff in the Department of Human Services, for example, and all have been there for over 12 months – “two-thirds of them had no technical background at all,” Larter said.

“They were coming out of military trades like riflemen, drivers, and navy boat deckhands. But they had the right attitude and culture to work in cyber.”

“We spend a lot of time matching people to the right jobs and career pathways, to make sure that they are happy.”