As emerging technologies continue to evolve, industry and Federal government experts agree that their workforce must also be on the cutting edge to stay one step ahead of adversaries and help fill the cyber skills gap.

At MeriTalk’s “New and Next: Looking Beyond Boundaries” webinar on Jan. 11, experts explained how workforce must be up to the challenge to address today’s emerging threats including cybersecurity threats, ransomware, and foreign actor threats.

“We have to be on the cutting edge of technology, particularly when it comes to cybersecurity, computer science, data analysis so that we can really address those threats,” said Scott McMillion, chief diversity officer in the FBI’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“But I will tell you, as emerging technology continues to grow and change within tomorrow’s virtual platforms, it becomes very much a challenge and we’re trying to be on the cutting edge of that technology to address our challenges with our workforce,” he added. “People that we’re bringing into our organization [should] have those skills, and have that cyber acumen to be able to address all of those threats.”

In order to create a cutting-edge workforce, experts explained that organizations may need to get creative with hiring practices.

Tony Holmes, practice lead for public sector solutions architects at Pluralsight, said that instead of recruiting for specific “perishable” skills, organizations should instead prioritize durable, strategic skills.

“What we need to do is we need to focus more on hiring for what we call in the industry ‘durable skills’ that persist and service in many situations, rather than focusing on perishable skills that have short half-lives,” Holmes said.

“So, instead of recruiting for this framework, or that API, or this certification, or all of these little minutia, what we need to be able to do is instead of focusing on the tactical, focus more strategic – because the ability to adapt, resiliency, adaptability, creativity, curiosity, all of these durable skills are going to be significantly more useful five years from now than learning about this particular programming widget,” he explained.

The panelists also agreed that both industry and Federal government workforces must collaborate in order to stay on top of emerging threats and ahead of adversaries.

“Collaboration is going to be the key to winning in this particular fight,” said Mark D. Townsend, vice president of professional services at Invicti. “Communicating both in the private sector as well as the public sector – that’s really going to help us move forward.”

Another way for an organization’s workforce to stay on the cutting edge, the panelists said, is to recruit a diverse workforce, using neurological diversity as an advantage and hiring from all kinds of backgrounds.

“We have to make sure that we invest in diverse populations,” McMillion said. “We also have to make sure that those individuals that are looking to come to the FBI – regardless of their demographic background or the different things that make us different as people – that we just get the best individuals into the organization so that we can be on that cutting edge of the technology advances.”

“There are people from all backgrounds – to include diverse, but not only diverse culturally or demographically, gender, race, age, and those kinds of things, but also neurologically – I think that make us positioned better to harness those skill sets,” he added. “Those individuals… [will] be helping us in the future as we continue to try to fill the need for a Federal workforce and other workforces in private sector to address the technological way.”

Holmes explained that with the current “skills crisis,” organizations must look to hire individuals who may not have a college degree, but have a thirst for knowledge.

In fact, he explained that if every student enrolled in college cybersecurity programs right now graduated tomorrow, “there is still not enough headcount to fulfill today’s cyber shortage, let alone tomorrow’s or next year’s. So, this is a problem.”

“We’re going to have to look for people that have a talent or an interest that may not necessarily be college bound because they’re from underserved communities… but they don’t lack anything in ability or intelligence or enthusiasm to follow a career in public service and become one of the superstars at the front end leading the charge,” Holmes said.

For the rest of the conversation, please enjoy the webinar on demand.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.