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Leadership To become a cybersecurity leader, Canada must invest in the next generation of workers

President, HP Canada

As technology continues to evolve at lightning speed, redefining the way we live and work, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to imagine functioning without it. Unfortunately, that reliance on technology to keep us connected has also made us more vulnerable to cyberattacks and threats that undermine the ability to keep our data safe. Our future online safety depends on investing in a work force that understands how to protect us online.

Empowering the next generation of workers begins with recognizing that we’re currently experiencing a serious deficit. A recent Deloitte report revealed that the demand for cybertalent in Canada is increasing by 7 per cent annually, with companies needing to fill 8,000 cybersecurity roles between 2016 and 2021. Those roles are going to be filled largely by millennials and Generation Zers, two demographics that have grown up more dependent on, and familiar with, technology than any generation before. Experts such as Ali Ghorbani, director of the University of New Brunswick’s cybersecurity institute, have pointed out that the crux of the solution is based on targeting and inspiring youth to seek careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and creating a dynamic and multifaceted view into what working in the cybersecurity world entails.

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One way to encourage students to hone their hacking skills is to provide real-life experience. At HP Canada, we provided a technology grant and employee volunteers to T.L. Kennedy Secondary School in Mississauga, saving the robotics program from being cancelled due to lack of funds.

As it stands, Canada is perfectly situated to be a leader for change in this area. With a strong STEM curriculum already in place, an increasing number of students are becoming interested in cybersecurity. Igniting this interest is the first step to redefining the traditional idea of a career in technology. Inspire students to reimagine themselves as hackers, on the front lines of changing the world. Once that perception is expanded, students can truly embrace opportunities to build skills and programs that help them see themselves in a future career.

There are already a number of these programs in place that serve as examples of how to grow the current pool of cybertalent. The Canadian Cyber Defence Challenge, for example, encourages students to learn foundational skills in areas such as networks and servers, providing real life training and peer-based motivation.

It’s important to note that creating a thriving Canadian cybersecurity work force depends heavily on collaborations between educational institutions and businesses, both to train new talent and match student demand. In Kitchener, Ont., Conestoga College partners with business organizations for their STEM-preneur program, which shows students how what they’re learning in the classroom is applied in the real world. Last year, the Information and Communications Technology Council, Opportunities NB, and Education and Early Childhood Development New Brunswick signed a partnership to encourage students to pursue cybereducation. This partnership will host and promote initiatives such as CyberTitan, a real-time online cyberskills competition that scores students across North America and provides feedback on cybersecurity comprehension.

Beyond access to opportunities, skill building and training in real world applications, we must acknowledge the problem of inclusivity in STEM careers. As it stands, Canada’s cybersecurity talent pool is comprised of 71 per cent male employees with only 29 per cent female and, at the senior leadership level, there exist very few female executives who are leading cybersecurity organizations. Under-using women in cybersecurity not only puts them at a disadvantage, but also leaves critical gaps in latent potential to solve complex security problems. Mentorship programs and opportunities to see successful women in the field are paramount.

While early outreach to encourage and inspire female students is vital, there’s also value in changing current perceptions of what a job in cybersecurity can be. Working on regulatory or compliance issues, human resources, risk management and even organizational psychology are all avenues through which young women (and any students who may not see themselves represented in traditional hacker culture) can find their way into the field.

The efforts and investments of the next few years will determine Canada’s role in the cybersecurity frontier of the future. With a savvy approach and shared enthusiasm with our students, we can continue to lead the way in protecting ourselves and our data.

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