Workforce Development in the EMEA: A Landscape of Challenges and Opportunities

Read what learning and development experts had to say about the workforce development landscape in the EMEA region.

Workforce Development in the EMEA A Landscape of Challenges and OpportunitiesAcross the world, there is a shortage of skilled workers needed to fill job vacancies. Countries have been challenged with developing a talented workforce to fill critical technology roles. The Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region has also experienced its own set of unique challenges in driving workforce development for the technology industry.

Many of these challenges derive from the need to have more skilled workers in multiple sectors of the IT industry. Often, these roles span from help desk support to critical cybersecurity positions. These issues present a great deal of obstacles to organizations requiring support for their needs, yet lacking the workforce they need to execute their business operations successfully.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the challenges learning and development (L&D) experts at the CompTIA EMEA Member and Partner Conference shared in growing their IT workforce. We’ll also discuss how professionals can better understand industry career pathways and provide insight on how organizations can create avenues to successfully implement workforce development.

Helping Professionals Understand IT Career Pathways

As the increase of attacks against organizations continues to grow, companies direly need skilled employees to protect their systems. These employees often need a wide range of digital skills ranging from data and artificial intelligence (AI) to security and technical support.

“Research reports have said that 59% of the workforce cannot do all the essential digital skills for work from the essential digital skills framework,” said Kerry Harrison, digital skills partnership coordinator, Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership. This means that although AI, robotics and machine learning (ML) have been increasingly trending, there is still a strong need for a workforce that can support the technological skills it takes to manage these tools.

The challenge many professionals face in the EMEA region (and globally) is that cybersecurity is not a true entry-level industry. Universities and other education institutions often paint the narrative that professionals can easily move into security. But most of the professionals landing roles in cyber already possess some of the relevant skills that employers are seeking, hold relevant certifications or pivoted from a different IT role.

Bridging the Skills Gap in IT and Cybersecurity

The IT workforce has vastly changed over the two past decades. Previously, cybersecurity roles were nearly non-existent and not as common as traditional IT roles. Generally speaking, organizations were more focused on their on-premises physical system and network security controls in their data centers and facilities. Retrospectively, this organizational infrastructure was built for, and required, a specialized workforce of highly trained employees.

At present, the industry is still focused on traditional IT roles, but there has also been a dramatic increase in the need for more cybersecurity professionals. While this has created an opportunity for greater workforce development, there remains a large skills gap in finding qualified industry professionals.

That said, many graduates with cyber degrees are finding it harder to land roles in security. Why? This is due in part to the reality that cybersecurity is not an entry-level career – even if you have a degree. When individuals shift their career into cybersecurity without incorporating hands-on learning, it's challenging to prove your value and land a role. This is where certifications, like CompTIA Security+, can bridge a gap.

Workforce Development Is a Shared Responsibility

When it comes to workforce development, who shoulders the responsibility? Should organizations take the lead, or should employees? Overall, it is a shared responsibility. It’s common for employers to feel like they are taking a risk when it comes to providing workforce development for their employees. Will those employees stay or use their new skills to get another job? But that perceived risk becomes even riskier when resorting to hiring under-qualified candidates and failing to provide adequate training.

On the flipside, there are candidates out there struggling to land roles in security. This could be the case for professionals with degrees and certifications but not enough hands-on experience. And in some cases, employers expect junior and mid-level employees to upskill on their own dime and time. If you’re new to the field without much hands-on experience, it can be difficult to afford the training you need.

Some employers and governments within the EMEA region are looking to increase their IT pro workforce. For example, Africa is building a program to train 100,000 IT pros as part of the initiative to close the country’s skills gap.

“The program basically is run to be able to train the next hundred thousand sub stream professionals in the next 10 years in Africa. It's piloted now in around five countries including Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana,” said Gilber Nyandeje, CEO, ENOVISE.

In addition to the program being piloted in 5 African countries, Nyandeje shared that it is designed to have hands-on labs for students to solve. The design allows students to solve capture-the-flag (CTF) style challenges and understand the motivations or logic behind each exercise. These types of programs can help support accelerated growth and help fill vacant cybersecurity roles within the industry.

Best Practices for Creating Workforce Development Pathways

Workforce development experts agree that cybersecurity requires more hands-on learning and development than many other industries. Here are three best practices that organizations can implement to create more learning and development pathways.

1. Incentivize Learning for Individuals Interested in a Cybersecurity Career

“We have built hands-on labs. If you're able to crack the hands-on lab, you get a job,” Nyandeje said. “Even if you can break into the box in our labs you need to understand why you're breaking into that box.” Ultimately, individuals that are interested in a cybersecurity career need to grasp the basics, understand how to execute and recognize the motivations beyond the challenge.

2. Highlight the Need for Hands-On Learning in Addition to Degrees

Nowadays there are numerous degree programs available for people looking to get into cybersecurity. While obtaining a degree can be a great step in the right direction for gaining knowledge, individuals looking to work in the industry should aim for hands-on learning opportunities too. Cybersecurity bootcamps and degree programs with hands-on lab learning allows people to learn and practice concepts firsthand.

3. Provide Alternate Hands-On Pathways

“Individuals are graduating from these degree programs and bootcamps ready to get started in their career in the industry,” Harrison said. “Then you have employers wanting people with more experience in the industry. It’s a mismatch between need and desire to hire.”

Ultimately, one way that employers can get more workers in the door and support training them on-the-job is by offering internships or apprenticeships. This allows individuals breaking into the industry to put their skills to the test and allows employers to fill hiring gaps. Work experience programs can support organizations with filling vacant cyber roles while providing fresh talent to learn in a junior-level role.

Learn more about CompTIA’s Workforce Development Solutions.

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