Changing the Conversation Around Security Clearance
The skill gap in the cybersecurity industry is large and looming larger. The number of unfilled jobs in cybersecurity grew an astounding 350% in an eight-year period, landing at a staggering 3.5 million open jobs in 2021. In the U.S. alone, there is a ratio of about four open jobs to every one skilled worker available to fill that position. With cyber threats growing at an astounding rate, including within our public institutions like K-12 public education, this gap is of growing concern for the future of our economy and labor market.
There are a litany of reasons why this gap exists and a number of ways to address it. We will be covering many of these causal relationships and potential solutions over the course of a series of articles. This first installment is going to address just one of these areas of concern: the existing security clearance process, specifically as it relates to diversity within the cybersecurity workforce.
Lack of Diversity in Cybersecurity is a Clear and Present Problem
Numerous media outlets have reported on the struggle national intelligence agencies are facing in diversifying their workforce. To be clear, we aren’t talking about aiming for diversity just for the sake of diversity. We are talking about diversity out of necessity.
In the U.S., we have a treasure trove of untapped skill sets that are not being taken advantage of because of policies. The security clearance process presents one major opportunity for improvement. Many minorities are excluded from the security clearance process, and that presents a clear challenge to how things are currently being handled.
Sweeping changes need to occur with security clearances for cyber security jobs. To do that, we have to change the conversation around the security clearance process. If we don’t change the conversation, we will continue to use the same processes that have been in place for the last 25 years or more, and we won’t make any progress.
The Current Security Clearance Process
Anyone who has applied for a position that requires national security clearance knows that it can be arduous and complicated. There are forms to fill out that run in triple-digit page counts, red flags that require explanation even when they stem from benign circumstances such as living abroad for a period of time, and inconsistencies that result from the human element that exists in the process.
The guidelines for making the cut should apply fairly and indiscriminately, but we all know that when humans enter the decision-making process, unfairness and discrimination may shortly follow. This is not to say that these decision-makers are intentionally bucking the system to further their own personal agenda. Rather, there are disqualifiers that reflect systemic bias against minoritized applicants.
How to Change the Conversation About the Security Clearance Process
Sweeping changes need to occur with security clearances for cyber security jobs. The first major hurdle will be to change the way we think and approach the process. We have to change the conversation.
Avril Haines is the first woman to serve as the Director of National Intelligence. Her top priorities are hiring for diversity and worker retention. To accomplish those goals, she advocates for changes to how data is collected and analyzed and asks tough questions about the reforms that need to be made to support diversity efforts. Those hard questions are the first step in having game-changing conversations.
Job applicants that require security clearance are asked questions that are normally not allowed in the hiring process. Let’s take financial status as a prime example. Financial issues are, in fact, a primary reason a candidate will not get through the security clearance process. However, it is well-documented that people of color have higher student loan debt and have much higher incidences of predatory lending practices than their white counterparts.
Should a person’s financial situation, which is a byproduct of systemic inequities, disqualify them from gaining security clearance and thus being able to fill this gaping hole in the cyber security workforce? Those are the kinds of questions that must be asked and carefully considered in a new conversation about this challenge.
OBAN is at the forefront of addressing the skill gap in the cybersecurity workforce. We are in the business of educating, certifying, and matching candidates to jobs in this field that desperately needs more people. To learn more about programs that are impacting communities across our country, contact us.
We will continue to explore this complicated issue. Our next article will propose solutions to improving the security clearance process that will drive diversity, specifically as it relates to transparency, training, and awareness.