Security analyst churn isn't just a money issue: what else impacts retention?

News by Davey Winder

While the skills gap has been editorialised to death, less attention has been given to the problem of retaining those skilled staff once an organisation has recruited them. ISACA Report digs deeper.

The latest cybersecurity workforce study from ISACA, the State of Cybersecurity 2019 (Part 1) report, paints a worrying picture regarding cyber-security team staffing.

While the skills gap has been editorialised to death, less attention has been given to the problem of retaining those skilled staff once an organisation has recruited them. According to the ISACA research, some 57 percent of organisations offer increased training as incentives to keep people but 82 percent admit most leave their companies for another because of financial and career incentives such as higher salaries, bonuses and promotions.

With 69 percent of organisations saying their cyber-security teams are understaffed, 58 percent having unfilled cyber-security positions and a six percent increase, year on year, of organisations languishing at least six months before they are able to fill open cyber-security positions, something needs to be done. The question is what?

"Organisations need to ensure there is equal opportunity for advancement within their cyber-security teams, and to prioritise efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion so that employees from all backgrounds feel welcome and respected" Rob Clyde, CISM, ISACA board chair, told SC Media UK.

This includes providing cyber-security teams with the opportunity to have flexible schedules, for all genders, so they can attend to their family and other personal obligations without limiting their career trajectories. "This goes a long way in improving overall work culture and environment" Clyde says "which 46 percent of respondents listed as the main reason they left one job for another." The top two factors were financial incentives on 82 percent and promotion/career development on 57 percent. So is retention, when all is said and done, really all about the money?

"Experienced and effective cyber-security staff are a rare commodity and like all rare commodities they attract a high price," Sue Andrews, HR & Business Consultant at Kis Finance said in conversation with SC Media UK, continuing, "over recent years organisations have really woken up to the risks of under-investing in this area which has led to a sharp increase in demand for appropriate staff with the required skills to manage this risk."

However, it's not just all about the money in terms of salaries and bonuses, according to David Warburton, senior threat evangelist for F5 Networks, but also budgets. "Poorly managed businesses with bad IT practices that see security as a compliance exercise are those that will struggle to retain cyber-security talent," Warburton says.

Tom Kranz, head of cyber labs at 6point6, agrees and reminds us that people don't leave companies, they leave managers. "Do your management team understand the threats, technologies, and fast pace of change in cyber-security?" Kranz asks, adding "we'd all like some more money, but at the end of the day, we want to get out of bed to go to a job we enjoy."

That fast pace of change demands skilled staff, and skilled staff means on the job training that looks at wider skill sets. "A pen testing course for those who are not pen testers, in order to get an understanding of what is involved can help keep the knowledge progressing" says Dr. Guy Bunker, CTO at Clearswift. Bunker also suggests that conference attendance time to get personal threat intelligence updates is also a great motivator.

And motivation is key to retention, perhaps more so in the cyber-security sector than most given that many enter this field through a passion for the subject. That passion can be quickly crushed once those in junior roles discover the uninspiring, repetitive, reality of the tier one SoC analyst. "There exists the lure to step up, something that brings both higher remunerations and critically, more variety and new challenges" argues Greg Day, CSO (EMEA) at Palo Alto Networks. Which again ties back into ongoing training to keep the passion alive.

In the end though, some think that it still does all come back to that skills gap issue. "Given the shortage of cyber-security professionals, it’s a seller’s market" James Hadley, CEO at Immersive Labs told SC Media UK, adding, "organisations are competing for the top talent and will often pay over the odds to get it and it’s a self-perpetuating issue."

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