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August 22, 2016

Talent Gap - OPM's Collaboration on the Cybersecurity Workforce Strategy

By Veronica Villalobos, Principal Deputy Associate Director for Employee Services at the Office of Personnel Management


The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and workforce experts across the Federal Government to implement dynamic initiatives to recruit, hire and develop the cybersecurity workforce necessary to tackle persistent cyber threats to the nation’s information technology networks and data. This work is part of the Administration’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP), which details ongoing initiatives to reduce the critical cybersecurity skills shortage that persists in each Federal agency.

Most recently OMB released the first ever Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Strategy (M-16-15), which details a series of near term actions to eliminate this workforce shortage by recruiting or developing talent to fill cybersecurity positions in the Government, while also helping to meet the human capital needs of the non-profit and private sectors. The Workforce Strategy outlines an ambitious and holistic approach to develop academic programs that reach students at institutions of higher education, as well as those with a budding interest in cybersecurity who are receiving early primary, or secondary education. Over the next year, Federal agencies will partner with academic institutions to develop a foundational cybersecurity curriculum that will help expand cybersecurity education across the nation. Creating a robust pipeline of cybersecurity professionals is only one tactic used in this strategy, as it seeks not only to standardize and institutionalize cybersecurity curriculum, but also cybersecurity as a critical area of human capital.

A relatively new field, cybersecurity lacks standard job titles, which makes writing and reading resumes difficult for both job seekers and hirers. Designating and implementing commonly used titles will facilitate communication between job seekers and employers and mitigate common unemployment challenges where qualified candidates are simply not being matched with job openings. The Workforce Strategy also aims to standardize the field by promoting PushButtonPD(™), a tool that provides mix-and-match, modular job descriptions that can be easily plugged into job descriptions and posted to job boards. Ensuring that everyone is speaking the same language and instituting widely-recognized standards will enable the cybersecurity field as a whole to grow and mature.

Even when the Federal Government is able to find qualified cybersecurity professionals, getting them in the door is still a challenge. Increasing awareness of current hiring authorities among both job seekers and employers is key in expediting the hiring process. OPM is also examining best practices to streamline background investigations and security clearance processes. OPM aims to position Federal agencies as places where a cybersecurity professional can easily transition in and out of throughout a career that is also punctuated with stints in the private sector or non-governmental organizations, for example. We hope this will be especially attractive to the generations of the workforce that prefer such flexibility and freedom of movement professionally.

New hires are not the only solution proposed in the Workforce Strategy. It also seeks to enhance and expand the cybersecurity talent that already exists in the Federal Government and better leverage cybersecurity resources government-wide. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has developed a unit of elite cybersecurity experts, known as the Cybersecurity Surge Corps, which agencies will be able to tap into when they have big problems. DHS is also in the process of refining the training offerings that provide continuing education and development opportunities for cybersecurity and non-cyber employees.

So, what can agencies do to immediately take advantage of government resources? I would advise them to become a member of the Cybersecurity HR Cadre and sign up for technical assistance courses offered by OPM such as the Cybersecurity Recruitment Roadmap Webinar. Agencies should also keep an eye out for a government-wide orientation that OPM plans to hold for all cybersecurity professionals hired within the last year. We hope this orientation will help Federal cybersecurity professionals form a stronger network and understand the resources they have in colleagues across the Federal sphere. It will also introduce them to training opportunities made available to them, helping to develop and retain talent within the Federal Government.

Ultimately, the implementation of the Workforce Strategy will allow the Federal Government to identify, attract, develop, and retain top talent in the cybersecurity field who can inject innovative solutions in an area that will continue to present significant national security challenges for the United States. I’m excited to be part of this opportunity and believe that we are positioning the Federal Government to attract, retain, and train world-class cybersecurity talent to help protect the nation’s digital systems and data.

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