Q&A: The Future of Tech is Diverse – An Industry Success Story

Join us as Luli Adeyemo, Executive Director, #TechDiversity, talks with Professor Ernest Foo, School of ICT at Griffith University, and Damian Seaton, Managing Director of Cyber Audit Team, as they explore ‘How the Cyber Skills Enrichment Program is helping those from diverse backgrounds get a foot in the Cyber Security industry door’.

 The cyber security industry is currently facing a significant talent shortage that is anticipated to widen over the coming years. To tackle this issue, the Australian Government, through AusIndustry, has provided select industry partners with appropriate funding to develop key programs and initiatives aimed at reducing this gap.

Cyber Audit Team (CAT), together with educational partner Griffith University (GU) were selected to deliver an initiative to help in closing this gap, aptly named the Cyber Skills Enrichment Program’. This program is unlocking Queensland’s cyber security potential and bolstering the cyber security workforce by increasing the ‘quality, quantity and diversity’ of job-ready skilled workers in this field.

At TechDiversity, we are all about supporting programs that help to increase diversity in Tech workforces across all industries, and we’re thrilled to speak to those responsible for spearheading this initiative and who are actively shaping a more diverse cyber security industry.  Griffith-Blog-Picture

Joining us are Professor Ernest Foo from Griffith University, an expert in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and Damian Seaton, Managing Director of Cyber Audit Team, an independent Managed Security Solutions Provider based in Queensland.  

Together, they shed light on the significance of diversity in technology workforces and discuss how the Cyber Skills Enrichment Program is helping to increase the quality, quantity, and diversity of skilled workers in Cyber Security in Queensland. And most importantly, how you can get involved! 

TechDiversity: One of the things the Cyber Skills Enrichment Program aims to improve is the diversity of skilled talent in the Cyber Security industry. Can you explain why it is so important to increase diversity in cyber security? 

Prof. Foo: Thanks, Luli. Diversity is not just a buzzword; it’s a crucial factor in fostering innovation and resilience in the tech industry. A diverse workforce brings different perspectives, ideas, and problem-solving approaches to the table. In the rapidly evolving field of technology, embracing diversity is not just a moral imperative but studies have shown it can also become a strategic advantage for companies that embrace it. 

TechDiversity: Damian, what are your thoughts on this?  

Damian Seaton: Ernest is right; different backgrounds and experiences definitely contribute to a more holistic understanding of cyber security issues, which is hugely beneficial to the industry.  

An issue we observe is that people from under-represented backgrounds, such as women, First Nations people and people with a disability, etc., can often face even greater barriers than most to entering this industry.  

If Australia is serious about addressing the major shortage of cyber security talent, then the industry and other associated parties should be actively encouraging and supporting those from diverse backgrounds not only to enter the industry but supporting them to succeed with continued professional development and effective mentoring. 

TechDiversity: That is so true; the research is there; for instance, a recent report by the ACS (Australian Computer Society) stated that women make up only 29% of the tech workforce, while indigenous representation is dismally low at 1%. We really do need to work together collectively to help address the skill and diversity gap evident in not only cyber security but tech in general!  

The Cyber Skills Program was developed specifically to help address this issue. Can you explain the ‘Cyber Skills Enrichment Program’, how it works, and how it helps people get a foot in the door of the cyber security industry?  

Damian Seaton: Thanks, Luli, of course.  

Our program is designed to support individuals at all stages of their cyber security career journey. For those looking to boost their expertise, our program offers a range of pathways catering to different proficiency levels. Starting out in cyber security can be overwhelming, but our program provides clear guidance on where to begin, which courses to take, and the essential skills to focus on. 

One of the most common issues faced by those at the start of their career journey is a lack of ‘real world’ experience. To address this, we designed a comprehensive 12-week salaried program for up to 20 industry placements, similar to internships, delivering real-world experience to IT-savvy individuals eager to enter the field.  

Candidates receive industry-relevant training and recognised micro credentialing, complemented by hands-on training and exposure to live customer environments. Additionally, candidates receive comprehensive support in personal and professional branding, mentorship, career guidance, job-hunting advice, and resume assistance from experienced professionals. 

Our goal is to equip individuals with the necessary skills, experience and confidence required to pursue a career in the cyber security industry, while positioning them for genuine employment opportunities. 

Prof. Foo: Yes, exactly, that’s what makes this program unique. One thing that we find is a significant barrier to most people trying to get into the industry, especially for new graduates or those from under-represented backgrounds, is that they may have the necessary knowledge and certifications, but without real hands-on experience, it can be difficult for those aspiring to a career in cyber to get their foot in the door.  

TechDiversity: That’s fantastic, and it’s great you are thinking about the long and short-term impacts of this issue and addressing it accordingly.  

You both mention it is harder for people from under-represented backgrounds to enter the industry. Please tell us how the Cyber Skills Enrichment Program is helping address this! 

Damian Seaton: Of course. The objective of increasing the diversity of the industry is one of the things our team is most proud of.  

The first step we take towards addressing this issue is to actively reach out to a diverse pool of candidates, encouraging those from under-represented backgrounds to consider a career in cyber security.  

By partnering with organisations like TechDiversity, and AWSN that have a membership/follower base from both diverse and under-represented groups in tech, we are able to reach candidates who can really benefit from the program.  

Additionally, by dismantling obstacles like training costs and offering various free training avenues, along with paid industry placements where participants gain valuable real-world experience while receiving compensation, we can improve accessibility to an industry that has traditionally been out of reach for underrepresented individuals. 

TechDiversity: This is really positive and impactful. Professor Foo, how do you see the Cyber Skills Enrichment Program impacting diversity within the industry?

Prof. Foo: I agree with Damien, not only are we targeting diverse candidates, but we are helping candidates through the provision of mentorship and guidance.  

In addition to the hands-on experiences, our paid placement candidates also receive mentorship from industry professionals who guide them through the program, answer any questions they may have and provide support. Griffith also meets with the candidates to provide additional mentorship and support.  

It’s not just about technical skills; it’s about creating a culture of inclusion where everyone feels they belong. This, in turn, contributes to a more diverse and vibrant cyber security workforce. 

In a study published in the Journal of Cyber Security Education, Research and Practice, October 2023, Understanding How to Diversify the Cyber security Workforce: A Qualitative Analysis, it was found that mentorship and representation were key factors in under-represented groups both succeeding and staying in Cyber.  

TechDiversity: Thank you both for highlighting how the Cyber Skills Enrichment Program actively contributes to a more diverse and inclusive cyber security industry. Your insights are invaluable as we build a future where everyone, regardless of their background, can thrive in the world of technology and cyber security. 

As we wrap up, do you have any advice for aspiring individuals looking to enter the cyber security industry? 

Prof. Foo: Embrace continuous learning. The field of cyber security is ever-changing, and staying updated is crucial. Also, seek out mentorship and networking opportunities; building connections can open doors and provide valuable insights. 

Damian Seaton: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Cyber security needs passionate individuals with diverse skills and backgrounds.  

Be willing to skill up in your own time, put yourself out there by attending local cyber events, join cyber security groups on LinkedIn, and follow and engage with industry specialists and professionals.  

Whether you’re returning to the workforce, are currently in IT and thinking about a career in cyber, are a veteran transitioning into the private sector, or are a lateral thinker and problem solver with a passion for cyber, there’s a place for you in this field! 

TechDiversity: We thank you both for sharing your insights on this critical topic. It is undeniable that the future of tech workforces is through embracing diversity, and we applaud initiatives like the Cyber Skills Enrichment Program for paving the way for a more inclusive and resilient industry that reflects the richness of our global community.

We interviewed one of the candidates who has just completed the program; please click here to find out how the program has had an impact.  

If you are interested in learning more about the Cyber Skills Enrichment Program, please visit cyberskills.com.au.

To sign up for the free cyber learning pathways, visit Cyber Training or if you have cyber or IT-related skills and wish to apply for a paid industry placement, please visit this page here.

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