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A global shortage of cyber-security professionals has become so severe that companies are increasingly at risk from hacking and industrial espionage.

Protecting data and defending corporate networks is poised to be one of the most in-demand careers of the future. Yet companies are already struggling to fill job vacancies, and the problem is accelerating.

“Every company is going digital, and the first thing they have to ask is how secure are their networks and data,” says Doros Hadjizenonos, the Regional Sales Director for Fortinet, a global provider of broad, integrated and automated cybersecurity solutions.

The danger is that cybercrime has grown so huge and lucrative that without enough good guys to keep them safe, businesses and individuals alike are in jeopardy. “If a company doesn’t have the right skills it’s increasing its risk to attack, because you need to put in the right policies and procedures and have the right people to manage the technology,” says Hadjizenonos. “But there is already a massive shortage of cybersecurity professionals in South Africa, and globally there’s a shortage of several million.”

The scarcity is a threat in itself, with 56% of IT professionals in the US fearing that staff shortages were putting their organisations at risk, according to a 2020 survey by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)².

Despite the clear skills gap, South African universities and technical colleges just aren’t training enough new young professionals. The shortage is also exacerbated by the brain-drain, with cybersecurity a sought-after skill internationally. That means every cybersecurity company and large organisation with an in-house IT department should be working to increase the knowledge pool, Hadjizenonos believes. “Enterprises need to come to the party with internship programmes to get people into the system and invest in them by bringing them up through the ranks. A lot of organisations are cutting their training budgets, but it’s critical to maintain training in the latest technologies, and for people with experience to take on interns and ramp them up.”

Fortinet took action last year by making its self-paced cybersecurity training courses available for free to address skills gap and develop a diverse cybersecurity workforce.

The idea of a future-proof job with global opportunities makes cybersecurity a smart career choice for ambitious and self-motivated youngers. “We’re especially trying to encourage women to enter the industry because they generally have a calm, analytical nature, and I’ve seen some really top female technology resources,” Hadjizenonos says.

He hopes the free training will attract an influx of newcomers into the career in South Africa, where jobs are practically guaranteed. Since opening these courses to the public, more than 800,000 people around the world have registered for Fortinet free training, boosting the cyber workforce of the future. The training spans more than 30 courses, with eight levels from broad security awareness up to full technical expertise.