COMMENTARY

Veterans can play a crucial role in filling cybersecurity needs

After transitioning from the military, many retired service members find themselves asking: Now what? The military itself offers several benefits, and a primary one is a designated career path. Nonetheless, veterans too often find themselves needing to add to their skillsets or reskill for long-term employment opportunities — or even struggling to determine what skills they need to acquire.

Military veterans are problem-solvers who understand the importance of maintaining a strong defense posture and following chain of command. They also understand the mindset of their adversaries. As the armed forces become increasingly digital, these skills translate well to cybersecurity opportunities.

Government contractors stand to benefit enormously from these accomplished and experienced candidates, but it means overcoming a divide some don’t even realize exists.

Training for A Different Kind of Battlefield

The shortage of trained professionals bringing their cyber and tech talents to the public sector is critical, and only continues to grow. By 2022, the global cybersecurity workforce shortage could reach upwards of 1.8 million unfilled positions. For the government, the glaring cybersecurity gap leaves agencies vulnerable and hamstrings their workforce.

Staying ahead of emerging cyber threats requires a seemingly elusive combination of advanced skills and talent. Foreign adversaries are using artificial intelligence, machine learning and emerging technologies to exploit the gaps in our cyber infrastructure.

To maintain cyber integrity and create resilience, government contractors and federal agencies must be quick to innovate and train personnel to spot vulnerabilities — ideally before they arise — strengthening defensive strategies and workforce skill sets.

Companies and government agencies alike have launched workforce cybersecurity programs to streamline the transition for veterans and allow them to take command in a promising career. However, many of these initiatives are unknown to both veterans looking to reskill and recruiters seeking to hire ready-to-work employees.

This creates a critical disconnect: Veterans enrolled in programs may be disappointed by a lack of direct connection to prospective employers, while companies may be unaware of these candidates with talent, experience and availability.

The best programs have resources to bridge this awareness gap. They also create realistic expectations for veterans entering the civilian workforce and provide practical resources, tools, certifications and networking opportunities that help address the intersecting issues at play between workforce challenges, cybersecurity gaps, federal contractors, and the military.

Case Study: BAE Systems and Fortinet

Defense contractor BAE Systems specializes in advanced defense technology, including electronic warfare, cybersecurity and intelligence services. BAE works in close cooperation with the Department of Defense and is consistently ranked among the Pentagon’s top suppliers. 

Facing a dire need to fill new contract positions, BAE Systems found success recruiting from the Fortinet Veterans Program, which provides comprehensive technical skills training, competitive recruiting tactics and certified IT professionals ready to work at any of the companies in its partner network. 

“Through Fortinet’s ecosystem of not-for-profit partners and employment partners, including managed security service providers (MSSPs), resellers, integrators and distributors, Fortinet is not only closing the cyber skills gap but also giving back to the community because our services are at no cost,” said Jay Garcia, global veterans program manager for Fortinet. “We like to call this ‘doing well while doing good.’”

After graduating, Fortinet-trained veterans get a “battle card” or snapshot outlining a candidate’s education, technical domain knowledge, expertise, commendations, certifications and security clearance. As a proven success metric of the program, BAE Systems hired nearly 1,400 veterans in 2019 and plans to hire more as the demand for cybersecurity skills continues to grow. A significant number of veterans hired came from the Fortinet Veterans Program to fill positions in both cybersecurity positions and non-technical roles within BAE Systems.

Since most of BAE Systems work is in the defense sector, veterans are a natural fit. There is also the factor of the security clearances that BAE and other defense contractors need to issue or maintain for around 60% of their employees — giving veterans, who often already hold these security clearances, yet another advantage.

Program Offerings to Look For

A well-rounded, veteran-friendly workforce program is critical to helping fill more cyber positions and also enables recruiters fill countless cyber defense positions for all incoming mission objectives. Key attributes of a top-tier veteran training program include:

  • Networking opportunities
  • Mentoring and transition guidance
  • Certifications
  • Educational material
  • Streamlined work rotations within the company or agency

Veterans already have a strong focus on mission objectives and on figuring out creative ways to accomplish them. The ability to take initiative is also important, as is agility — rapid adaptability to new processes and conditions.

“Veterans have already proven themselves twice — first in the military and then when completing a rigorous program like Fortinet’s. They’re highly trainable, quick to learn and take accountability seriously,” said Nanci Long, talent acquisition business pursuits manager at BAE Systems. “Couple that with the impressive resumes and technical skill sets, and you would be hard-pressed to find better candidates for the work we do … it’s the work ethic of our veterans that makes BAE Systems such a strong company overall. I am convinced of that.”

About the Author

Chris Davison is the veteran recruitment program manager at BAE Systems.

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