Addressing the Skills Gap in Digital Security

Authors: Gonzalo Garcia-Belenguer and Mariana Cardona, Project Officers, Cyber Security Program, Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE), Organization of American States

With one of the fastest Internet growth rates since the beginning of the century, Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced an increase of over 2% in the number of Internet users between 2000 and 2017. As the technological revolution spreads within the region, new opportunities are created in the labor market, increasing the need for a more skilled labor force. While this growth has brought numerous opportunities for the region, concerns are raised about the current and potential use of the Internet for criminal and terrorist purposes. With the rising threat of cyberattacks, having an understanding of cybersecurity becomes a highly valued skill in the labor market. Latin America has one of the highest shortages of skilled labor in the world, especially in the cybersecurity and information technology (IT) sector. In fact, it is predicted that by 2019, the region will lack more than 400 000 IT professionals. However, there has been an increase in capacity building programs on cybersecurity education are being developed to bridge the technical skills gap in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Setting the Stage: the Latin American Context

Latin America has a great-untapped potential: youth. With 25% of its population aged between 15 and 20 years, the region has a large working age population and a promising future in regards to its labor force. However, Latin America faces two major challenges that restrict economic growth; the prevalence of undeclared work and the lack of technical skills. With 55% of the population working in the informal economy and 2 out of 5 young people neither studying nor working, Latin America is one of the regions with the highest shortage of skilled labor. According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), 55% of Latin American companies have difficulties recruiting skilled labor, specifically in technology-related fields. In Colombia, the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MINTIC) has identified a deficit of 15,000 software and telecommunication engineers, and in Peru, 67% of employers report having difficulties recruiting skilled labor.

According to a study developed of the International Data Corporation, one of the largest skill gaps identified in Latin America are in emerging networking technology skills and essential networking skills, which includes cloud, Internet of Things, cybersecurity, software development, and network security. In addition to the overall lack of technical skills in the region, there is a wide gap between the technical skills available and those that are in demand in the current labour market. This can partially be explained by the lack of formal training and education in cybersecurity and IT that exists in Latin America. According to the report Cybersecurity: Are we ready in Latin America and the Caribbean? published in March 2016 by the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), 26 countries from the region do not have structured educational programs related to cybersecurity. For instance, in Trinidad and Tobago some universities offer courses on ethical hacking but there are no official cybersecurity degrees or certification programs. In other countries like Peru, there are many national universities and private companies that offer trainings in cybersecurity, but lack adequate technology and experienced teaching staff.

On the upside, there has been a marked growth of national cybersecurity education development in Colombia and Panama, where numerous universities, agencies and institutions provide training, accreditation programs and advanced degrees in cybersecurity.

#pathways2progress

Creating a Career path in digital security

The Program Creating a Career Path in Digital Security, financed by Citi Foundation and implemented by OAS and the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT), is a clear example of an initiative that is working towards bridging the technical skills gap in Latin America and the Caribbean. The goal of this program is to empower youth from low-income households and foster career readiness in the region. The program provides digital security training for over 120 young people aged between 17-25 years and sources internship opportunities for program beneficiaries in all four countries.

The curriculum consists of technical theory, hands-on exercises and job readiness training. Various topics are discussed: digital security principles; information security within lifecycle management; risks and vulnerabilities; incident response; and future implications and evolving technologies. The training allows students to acquire the basic knowledge needed to access entry-level positions in the field of digital security, obtain certification and participate in an internship program. The offered internship program helps qualified students get acquainted with a formal work environment, gain knowledge on the technical aspects of incident management in cybersecurity and learn from experts in the field. This way, students are well prepared for when they enter the workforce in the field of digital security.

Citi is not the first company to develop programs that intend to address the technical skills gap in the region. Since 2000, Cisco and USAID have joined forces to sponsor Networking Academies in over 40 countries all around the world. These academies partner with governments, learning institutions and community centers in order to promote entrepreneurship, offer technical trainings and foster the development of professional skills with a focus on topics such as networking, security and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

Bridging the skills gap

Tangible Solutions

Academia, private companies and government organisations should work together to build up technical skills and experience among young people that complement the needs of current economy. To bridge the technical skills gap, first and foremost the educational systems in Latin America must be improved. While the labor demand for jobs in telecommunications, cybersecurity and IT increases, young people should also be encouraged to study these professions which can be done through the development of incentives, training programs and apprenticeships. With a large young population, Latin America has great potential for building a skilled and prepared labor force in cybersecurity and IT.

This article first appeared in the fourth issuse of the Global Cyber Expertise Magazine - November 2017