IT Brief New Zealand logo
Technology news for New Zealand's largest enterprises
Partner content
Story image

Aotearoa's cyber skills shortage: The tug-of-war between talent supply & demand

By Sara Barker
Wed 1 Dec 2021

"ICT Security Specialist" appears on Immigration New Zealand's list of long-term skill shortages. It reflects the cry for talent that rings out across New Zealand's cybersecurity industry amid the global skills shortage. Education providers are training people of all ages - from those straight out of secondary school to professionals looking to upskill - but like any balance of supply and demand, there's a frustrating gap between what they're taught and what the market needs.

The current state of New Zealand's cybersecurity skills shortage

In 2016, the Government established the Cyber Security Skills Taskforce precisely to address this issue. In conjunction with the tech industry and academia, the aim was to develop a level 6 diploma for junior analysts, which provided training in these critical areas. In 2019, the diploma was initially available to the public through Unitec. Since then, cybersecurity courses have become more common as standalone certifications or modules within broader IT degrees. 

We've all seen the rhetoric that cybersecurity has never been more important - and it is true. Organisations need qualified, experienced security specialists to lead the charge. At the time of writing, there are currently 69 vacancies covering everything from analyst and advisory roles to engineers, managers, directors. You're in hot demand if you're skilled in almost any aspect of cybersecurity. You're highly sought-after in New Zealand and worldwide. In many cases, you have the upper hand in a desperate world that needs you. This is the reality of the cybersecurity skills gap.

Aura Information Security consultant Horatiu Petrescu says the cybersecurity industry attracts people from all walks of life and backgrounds such as IT, engineering, risk management, marketing, business analysis, and even psychology. 

"Skills, qualities, and personalities vary depending on which side of cybersecurity you're interested in. For example, technical cybersecurity might require networking knowledge and understanding of interactions between devices. Knowledge about cryptography, web security, exploits, security information and event management (SIEM) is also valuable.

"The conceptual side of security covers risk, compliance, policy and governance. Curiosity and a passion for continuous learning is also essential. The industry is always changing. Technology advances, threat actors adapt, and businesses change. Learning is not just how you start in cybersecurity; it is a way of life. The 'bad guys' are always learning and working in this industry so you must keep your own knowledge and skills razor sharp to stay ahead."

The flipside is that candidates who are skilled enough are in such demand that they have plenty of choices. They can choose who to work for; they can request a competitive salary and other benefits - why would they want to work for a New Zealand organisation if they can achieve more and receive greater benefits from another employer somewhere else in the world?

Kordia CISO Hilary Walton says businesses of all types are struggling to find new talent. in the IT and security industry alone, as many as 40% of people are considering changing jobs.

"This has been exacerbated by lockdowns and people working from home as the lack of connection with their colleagues is causing them to feel distanced from their employer," she notes.

Hays A/NZ director of cyber, Edmond Pang, says clients seek candidates with skills in identity and access management, security resilience, and risk assessment as businesses migrate data to the cloud. But there are challenges in finding suitable candidates, particularly as the local candidate pool is small and closed borders make it challenging to find talent.

So what are students being taught, and what do our education providers make of this skills gap?

Most New Zealand universities offer security-focused options for undergraduate and postgraduate students. These options range from papers to full degrees on the subject. Private training providers also offer training options for professionals.

For example, the University of Waikato's Master of Cyber Security degree is hailed as the 'first of its kind in New Zealand'. It presents an overview of computing infrastructure and cyber threats, attacks, and defences. In addition to the theory, there are practical, hands-on experiences, guest lecturers, and opportunities to engage with the industry. It's everything you would expect from a university course, and its graduates have ended up working for local businesses.

These educational experiences are now expected in any formal training certification, whether provided by a university or other training provider. The private sector is also getting on board. For example, Kordia runs a 'Cyber Academy' to develop cybersecurity talent via a set curriculum and real-world training.

In the healthcare sector, where cybersecurity is particularly important, there is a strong focus on industry qualifications and degrees.

Orion Health executive vice president of operations, Simon Clark, says, "For both our privacy and security roles, we focus more on certifications, training and qualifications, and experience in healthcare, rather than personality traits. However, people who are diligent and process-driven often excel in privacy and security roles. 

"People who are active in the security industry with affiliations to groups such as OWASP - Open Web Application Security Project and AppSec - Application Security, are often committed to continuous learning and development in their roles."

Are education providers keeping up with market needs?

It's all very well graduating with a qualification. Still, any graduate understands the old conundrum - businesses want staff with years of experience, but how do they get experience without being offered jobs? Perhaps it's unwise to expect a new graduate to fill a role like CISO or head of security. At the same time, a recent graduate will never be able to fill that role if they can't get a foothold in the industry and don't have a mentor within their organisation.

So how do we deal with the differing expectations of what candidates need, what education providers are teaching, and what organisations need? Dr Victoria Huang, University of Waikato Research Fellow in the School of Computing & Mathematical Sciences, believes internships can bridge the gap.

"With high awareness of cybersecurity and increasing demand for cybersecurity professionals, we are seeing the number of organisations offering cybersecurity internships is increasing. This gives students a good opportunity to get real-life work experience, and it helps organisations to identify their future employees."

Huang points to the Summer of Tech programme, which is designed to help businesses and students to get that experience. As a result, organisations can offer entry-level roles, but they can also find suitable candidates for the job. 

Another issue centres around how businesses recruit talent - should they focus on seeking out top talent at the expense of giving new graduates the experience they need?

Kordia's Hilary Walton says businesses need to do both. But, first, organisations must build relationships with tertiary institutions.

"We work closely with tertiary institutes who we think produce the best cyber graduates. We will often go in to speak to the students once or twice a year so we can be part of their education. We bring in cybersecurity professionals from our team who are both technical and non-technical so that the students can see the breadth of roles available in this industry," she says.

Edmond Pang says it's a challenge to balance the intake of new graduates and skilled professionals. Often a lack of in-house expertise means there would be nobody to guide recent graduates, thus exacerbating the skills gap. And, of course, businesses still want to protect their security.

"Some organisations are already providing ongoing learning and development for their cyber team or are hiring cyber candidates with potential who can be upskilled into the role. This is a definite advantage, allowing an employer to recruit professionals who, with a little upskilling, can become highly valued employees. But ultimately, it will take a longer-term strategy of increasing cybersecurity awareness to help overcome this skills shortage."

Pang references the recent October Cyber Awareness Month, which identified a need for greater cyber awareness in three key areas:

  • Future talent – help students understand what a career in cybersecurity looks like and what career progression is offered to increase interest in the field;
  • Users – ensuring all staff are practising smart choices when using digital products on an organisation's platform since 95% of cyber breaches are caused by users.
  • Existing cyber staff – provide ongoing training to upskill current cybersecurity professionals to learn and understand new tools and products and protect from new threats.

Victoria Huang adds, "As cybersecurity researchers, we always try to promote cybersecurity and raise cybersecurity awareness. For example, we have been organising the national cybersecurity event called the New Zealand Cyber Security Challenge since 2014. The challenge invites more than 500 secondary school students, tertiary students, and industry experts from across New Zealand to participate in a series of cyber challenges. The challenges in the entrance round don't require participants to have a deep knowledge of cybersecurity. Instead, they are designed to direct participants' ability to think outside the box, a key skill you need in the industry."

"Apart from the challenge rounds, the on-campus day also includes keynotes given by cybersecurity organisations (e.g., New Zealand Police, National Cyber Security Centre, and industry experts). Therefore, the event provides a great opportunity for organisations, participants, and cybersecurity enthusiasts to interact with each other. "

Do we need to relax immigration requirements to cyber-protect our businesses?

Regardless of how students and professionals are gaining experience, there is a continuous call from businesses to relax immigration requirements for those on the skills shortage list because - for whatever reason - they can't find the right talent on home soil.

Victoria Huang says there are two ways to approach this issue. "First, we can train cybersecurity professionals to bridge the gap. This is what we as educational organisations are doing. However, the current situation is a lack of skilled professionals in both industry and academia. Therefore, even though we have domestic students interested in cybersecurity, we may not have enough qualified individuals to provide the training. 

"Second, we need industries to work closely with tertiary providers to grow cybersecurity talent to meet the increasing demand for trained cybersecurity professionals. Although more organisations are offering cybersecurity internships nowadays, this partnership happens at a low level or a short interval. What New Zealand lacks is a long-term partnership. Not many New Zealand organisations are investing in building the cybersecurity workforce with a long-term plan."

Kordia's Hilary Walton adds, "It certainly doesn't help the IT and security market that the border is closed – it's hard enough under 'normal' circumstances to recruit enough cybersecurity professionals. While recruiting externally from markets outside New Zealand is one mechanism for filling the gap in the short term, we should still focus on growing our own talent, as this will pay dividends to the industry in the long term."

Edmond Pang believes that relaxing immigration requirements is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't help the global cybersecurity skills shortage.

"Even with relaxed immigration requirements, organisations will need a very good attraction strategy to secure international talent. A more sustainable solution is the awareness and upskilling."

Simon Clark says Orion Health's New Zealand business prefers to hire from the existing talent pool, but it's not always possible. "If there are not enough skilled individuals in the field then we have to look to hire outside New Zealand. At the moment, because of the pandemic, it's challenging. If candidates don't fulfil the strict immigration and entry requirements then we can't even look at their CVs - no matter how skilled or experienced they are."

Cybersecurity awareness is a perpetual requirement for every business

Edward Pang says that it is important to make sure all staff understand cybersecurity, even if they may not be the next CISO or security analyst.

"It's important for organisations to not only recruit cybersecurity specialists to protect their business but have a strategy in place to raise awareness and educate workforces on what good cybersecurity looks like. Ninety-five percent of cyber breaches occur through employees being careless, so it's not just up to a cybersecurity team – it's important every employee is informed and cyber aware to reduce the chance of a breach."

Kordia's Hilary Walton says cybersecurity is teachable to anyone who is motivated and capable.

"One of the key recruitment ingredients for me is what candidates can add to the team in terms of diversity of experience and thought, and how well they will fit into our culture and work in a team. Cybersecurity is so fast-paced that it is difficult for a person on their own to get across the influx of new trends and information relevant to our industry.

"By acting as a team, and sharing, collaborating, and teaching others, we can be stronger and better at what we do. The best people in this industry are those who contribute to the infosec community – whether that be presenting information to peers at industry events, mentoring others, or simply sharing notes and perspectives with their colleagues."

Public Interest Journalism Fund logo
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.
Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Amazon Web Services / AWS
Zscaler, AWS accelerate onramp to the cloud with zero trust
Zscaler has announced an extension to its relationship with Amazon Web Services, as well as innovations built on Zscaler's Zero Trust architecture.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Aqua Security, CIS create software supply chain security guide
Aqua Securityand the Center for Internet Security have together released the industry’s first formal guidelines for software supply chain security.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Threat actors ramp up their social engineering attacks
As people get better at identifying potential threats in their inbox, threat actors must evolve their methods. Their new M.O? Social engineering.
Story image
Commerce Commission
ComCom puts electronics sector on notice over resale price maintenance
The Commerce Commission has concluded an investigation into allegations that television manufacturers were engaging in illegal resale price maintenance.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Greater API usage raises concerns for protection - report
Radware has released its 2022 State of API Security report, which shows a rise in APIs, with 92% of the organisations surveyed significantly or somewhat increasing their usage.
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Boomi, Limepay, Thales, VMware & Zoom
We round up all job appointments from June 6-16, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Open source
DataStax secures US$115 million to fund database expansion
DataStax has secured US$115 million in funding, which it will use to develop and expand its Astra DB multi-cloud database and Astra Streaming service globally.
Story image
Training
Employers look to hire inexperienced coders due to skills shortage
"Even inexperienced workers without prior qualifications or experience had managed to pivot to new roles in coding as long as they are willing to upskill."
Story image
Contact Centre
Customer service agents don't want to return to contact centres
A new report has revealed that 85% of customer service agents want to work full-time at home and not return to contact centre offices.
Story image
Apple
Jamf updates healthcare IT to protect data on Apple devices
Jamf has rolled out new functionality to help healthcare and IT teams protect patient data and streamline clinical access for their Apple fleet.
Story image
trust
Consumers want personalisation, but don't trust brands with their data
Customers expect personalisation during every brand interaction but they don't trust brands to keep their personal data secure and to use it responsibly. 
Story image
Digital Transformation
Cybersecurity priorities for digital leaders navigating digital transformation
In recent years, Asia-Pacific has especially been a hotspot for cyberattacks, and as we continue into 2022, it’s evident that the problem is becoming more significant.
Story image
Sustainability
Schneider Electric ups the ante on sustainability strategy
"We've made some progress but to avoid a major energy challenge, all data centres - including distributed edge data centres - must be more sustainable."
Story image
SaaS
Sealord partners with Infor to improve sustainability
Sealord has chosen Infor as a strategic partner to implement an operational cloud-based platform that provides day-one functionality and sustainability gains.
Story image
INTERPOL
Hundreds arrested, millions seized in global INTERPOL investigation
A two-month-long investigation by INTERPOL this year involved 76 countries and clamped down on organised crime groups behind telecommunications and social engineering scams.
Story image
Healthcare
Workday winning on culture and family focus
This family-first approach sees all employees receive access to family-wide private healthcare cover, as well as income protection and life insurance policies.
Story image
Manufacturing
Sternum joins NXP, collaborates on IoT security and observability
Sternum has announced it has joined the software partner community of NXP Semiconductors, a manufacturer of and large marketplace for embedded controllers.
Story image
Disaster Recovery
Eaton provides business continuity with disaster avoidance application
Many SMBs often struggle with problems relating to UPS and IT assets due to the sheer amount of time and resources required to run effectively. 
Story image
Digital Transformation
Apptio adds portfolio enhancements to promote digital strategy
"While digitalisation creates opportunities, it also makes budgeting far more complex, leading many companies to waste substantial funds."
Story image
SaaS
Varonis strengthens security capabilities for AWS and S3
Varonis has strengthened and expanded its cloud and security capabilities, with a critical aim of improving safety and boosting data visibility in Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3).
Story image
B2B
Corpay partners with supply chain platform PracBiz Exchange
Corpay's new partnership with PracBiz’s allows more than 4000 B2B suppliers on the latter's platform to use Corpay's global payments services.
Story image
Infrastructure
VMware wins Google Cloud partner award for infrastructure modernisation
The cloud computing and virtualisation company was recognised for its achievements as part of the Google Cloud ecosystem.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Why is NZ lagging behind the world in cybersecurity?
A recent report by TUANZ has revealed that we are ranked 56th in the world when it comes to cybersecurity - a look into why we're so behind and what needs to be done.
Story image
Entelar
How TruSens air purifiers can create healthier workspaces
The pandemic has heightened our awareness of our own and others’ health, and made us all much more conscious of the environments we work in.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Ingram Micro launches vendor-backed security program
Ingram Micro has unveiled a new program intended to give resellers the effective offerings their customers need to stay safe in the evolving threat landscape.
Story image
F5 Networks
Telstra, F5 team up to bolster services and solutions
“This partnership demonstrates our ongoing investment into APAC as we continue delivering high value services and solutions to our partners and customers."
Story image
DNS
DigiCert acquires DNS Made Easy and affiliated brands
Greg Clark comments, says, "This combination enhances the security of certificate validation and enables the automation of future validations."
Story image
Network Security
Netskope announces zero trust network access updates
Customers can now apply zero trust principles across a range of hybrid work security needs, including SaaS, IaaS, private applications, and endpoint devices.
Story image
Electricity
Canstar finds Flick Electric NZ’s favourite provider
Canstar’s annual research to find New Zealand’s favourite electricity provider reveals Flick Electric has come out on top.
Story image
10 Minute IT Jams
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from Rimini Street
Today we welcome back Daniel Benad, who is the GVP & regional GM for Oceania at Rimini Street.
Story image
Partnerships
Microsoft expands APAC Enabler Mentorship Program
"Mentors are the key to success for every professional. A good mentor is a coach, a guide, as well as a vocal advocate."
Story image
Dark web
Cybercrime in Aotearoa: How does New Zealand law define it?
‘Cybercrime’ is a term we hear all the time, but what exactly is it, and how does New Zealand define it in legal terms?
Story image
Testing
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from Tricentis
Tricentis provides software testing automation, and software quality assurance products for enterprise software.
Story image
API
Industry-first comprehensive risk-based API security enhances protection
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have become a crucial part of operating web and mobile application businesses and are causing significant economic growth in the digital sector.
Story image
Citrix
The best ways to attract young talent during labour shortages
New research from Citrix reveals hybrid working and ventures into the metaverse are top of mind for Gen Z workers.
Story image
Ransomware
Rapid7 report examines use of double extortion ransomware attacks
New insight into how attackers think when carrying out cyber attacks, along with further analysis of the disclosure layer of double extortion ransomware attacks, has come to light.
Story image
eInvoicing
Airwallex, Xero extend partnership with easier invoice payments
Airwallex has extended its long-term partnership with Xero by releasing a new payment link integration for Xero invoices that will make receiving them easier and faster for Australian businesses.
Story image
Cloud
Cloudflare outage in 19 data centers worldwide due to own error
Cloudflare says its outage for 19 of its data centers yesterday was because of a change in a long-running project to increase resilience in its busiest locations.
Story image
Hybrid workforce
Why hybrid working is here to stay and how to ace it
Citrix's new report reveals hybrid workers are more productive and engaged at work than their office and completely remote counterparts.
Story image
Robotic Process Automation / RPA
rapidMATION helps Coates achieve success with landmark RPA solution
A strong Robotic Process Automation solution (RPA) can help solve many complex issues that businesses face daily. 
Story image
N4L
N4L, Spark, Chorus partner for Hyperfibre school upgrade
Networks for Learning (N4L) has partnered with Spark and Chorus to upgrade Wellington College to Hyperfibre, fostering stronger outcomes for students and teachers.
Story image
PagerDuty
Ready for anything with the PagerDuty Operations Cloud
In a world of digital everything, teams face increasing complexity. Ever-growing dependencies across systems and processes put customer and employee experience, not to mention revenue, at risk.
Story image
Microsoft
Volpara, Microsoft project to detect cardiovascular issues
Volpara Health Technologies is working with Microsoft on a research and development project to speed up creating a product that detects and quantifies breast arterial calcifications (BACs).
Story image
Shouta
The rise of digital gifting in the workplace
The name itself does most of the explaining; it’s a gift you receive virtually. But a misconception about digital gifts is that they need to be redeemed virtually as well.