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SMETechGuru recently had the chance to speak to Manoj Puri, Group Chief Security Officer at Absa Group about scarce technology skills as well the importance of closing the cyber skills gap locally.

  1. What is the importance of encouraging and equipping the youth with scarce skills like cybersecurity to prepare them for 4IR and how does it impact the economy?

In Q1 of 2022, the estimated employment rate of South Africa’s youth was 63.9% according to Statistics South Africa. With the high levels of unemployment, abject poverty and high crime rates, security consciousness is a fundamental survival skill. South Africa’s youth is an untapped pool of natural cybersecurity talent. The Absa Cybersecurity Academy has begun to tap into this talent pool with very promising results. Together with the desperate need for in-demand skills development, we believe that Africa has the potential to be the global hub for cybersecurity talent.

  1. Why should young people consider a career in cybersecurity?

With the high unemployment rate in the country, a projected global cyber security skills gap estimated to be 2.72 million according to the Fortinet “2022 Cybersecurity Skills Gap” report and cybersecurity become an increasing top of mind concern for executives and board members. A career in cybersecurity will provide young people a high in demand skills and an opportunity to work in multiple industries earning an income.

  1. How will equipping the youth with cyber skills improve the state of cybersecurity in South Africa?

The increased use of online and application services both in the private and public sector means a greater need for a safe secure cyber environment. This is evident in the Interpol “African Cyberthreat Assessment Report”  which states that South Africa incurred 230 million cyberthreats and said to have the third highest number of cybercrime victims worldwide costing R2.2 billion a year.

The Interpol report also highlights that the financial services sector has seen a 100% increase in mobile banking application fraud and is estimated to suffer 577 malware attacks an hour. All these factors considered have had a huge impact not only in South Africa but the continent as a whole with a 10% negative impact on the African GDP coming to an estimated cost of $4.12 billion in 2021.

Equipping the youth with cyber skills means that while the government is doing what it can to improve the state of the economy it is also imperative to have the capability to protect the gains made and have a safe cyber business environment to attract investments. These cyber skills will also be another avenue to address the high youth unemployment rate in the country by empowering young individuals with high in demand skills.

  1. What are some of the scarce skills in the financial industry and does Absa have any empowerment and educational programs for the youth to address them?

Absa has in the past three years made big strides in providing cyber security skills through the “Absa Cybersecurity Academy” to marginalised South African youth and the visually impaired in collaboration with The Maharishi Invincibility  Institute and Hein Wagner Academy. The course is a three-year programme and the first cohort of 20 learners will be graduating in August 2022. Currently there is a total of 78 learners enrolled in the Cybersecurity Academy. Our vision is to make South Africa the hub of cybersecurity talent – we have the people; we just need to help them rewrite their futures.

  1. How does the shortage of young people with cyber skills influence the financial sector?

Shortage of young people with cyber skills has a huge negative impact on the financial sector in that the industry is continually evolving to be more digital. We have seen an unprecedented increase in number of data breaches, ransomware attacks and malware and this has increased as a result of  the COVID 19 pandemic with many organisations adopting “work from home” and “hybrid” policies increasing the attack surface area. This has left not only the financial sector but many other sectors even more vulnerable to attacks.

  1. What does closing the cyber skills gap mean for Absa?

Our goal at Absa is to establish Africa as the hub for global cybersecurity skills and we hope to extend the programme across the continent over time, as it has the potential to grow exponentially and change many lives.

Addressing the global shortage of cybersecurity professionals is an urgent challenge and provides a unique opportunity to make a difference. This skills shortage must be filled to support the projected growth in the world’s cybersecurity sector over the next couple of years, but the talent pool is simply not keeping pace. In South Africa, the problem is compounded as those who are trained in cybersecurity do not stay, as they are headhunted by global counterparts for premium packages. Therefore, it is important to close the cyber skills as to address the ever-increasing cyber threats and it is our job to prepare the youth for the 4IR. We need to invest in upskilling them for the future of work and to meet global cyber security demands, it is this that lies at the heart of the Absa Cybersecurity Academy.