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Space agency to put rocket under STEM

01:12pm September 29 2017

Richard Johnson says hiring experienced professionals from other disciplines can be an effective way of attracting talent into cyber-related role (Getty Images).

The government’s plans to establish a national space agency attracted a lot of attention.

And rightly so.

Anything that encourages more young Australians to study STEM subjects and seek jobs where these skills can be utilised is a good thing, as we are finding in the financial services industry. Sure, budding STEM enthusiasts may gravitate to the aeronautical industry in the hope of working in the space agency or even heading into space. But we know STEM professionals also have incredibly valuable skills they can put to use in a range of industries, including banking.  

In my field of cyber security, for example, it’s estimated there will be a global shortfall of more than 1.5 million security professionals within the next three years. In Australia, it’s likely almost 20 per cent of positions in the will go unfilled due to a lack of trained professionals and significantly escalating demand for people. This need is driven by the rapid transition to the digital era of business, and the consequent increase in risk from hackers and others intent on doing the wrong thing.

Such incidents are becoming increasingly common. This year alone, we’ve seen the global WannaCry ransomware attack and “Petya” attacks. Just this month, major US credit reporting agency Equifax reported hackers may have had access to hundreds of millions of consumer records.  

It’s clear that part of a sustainable security strategy will require that the cyber security industry build out its talent pipeline to address the shortfall. At Westpac, we engage with a range of high school, undergrad and graduate sponsorship, training and development programs, including support for the Young Technologist Scholarships program of the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation. We offer university sponsorships in cyber roles, such as the UNSW and UTS Co-op program and Westpac’s STEM PhD program. We invest in research training through our ICSL collaboration with Federation University.

As with the broader technology industry, a major challenge however for the cyber security sector – and Australia overall -- is attracting women into STEM areas. It’s a global problem: women constitute only 10 per cent of the global information security industry, actually dropping from 11 per cent last year despite the growth in jobs. As the numbers highlight, demand for talent exists, and we need to make sure that everyone has access to that opportunity. We are committed to doing more.

But clearly more will need to be done to grow the STEM talent pool, and the development of the nation’s space industry is a welcome step. That’s because many of the skills are transferrable across industries. Indeed, we are finding that hiring experienced professionals from other disciplines is an effective way of attracting talent into cyber-related roles.

When looking for candidates, it’s both business and technology skillsets combined that are highly desirable for cyber roles. Put another way, while it’s useful to have at least one tech skill or knowledge area, you don’t have to be a “deep techie”. Many of our roles require more time talking to people than sitting at a screen.

Just as important are integrity, passion, drive, resilience and pragmatism.

Interestingly, the global statistics tell us that human behaviour triggers 95 per cent of all cyber incidents and as a company we are taking steps to inform and educate our employees to play an ever-greater role in protecting the data of our customers and people.

As the world becomes more interconnected, these threats are not going away. Cyber criminals are becoming more sophisticated and global. Thus the imperative to attract more people to the cyber security sector, and STEM more broadly, is only rising.

Richard has seventeen years experience at the Westpac Group. Prior to his appointment as Chief Information Security Officer, Richard was the Head of Technical Security Services for the Group. In these roles, he has led the Group’s information security strategy, delivery and governance. Prior to joining the Westpac Group, Richard held roles as Head of Technology Audit at Woolworths Limited, Technology Audit Manager at BT Financial Group, and in Computer Risk Management at Arthur Andersen. In addition to his academic credentials, Richard has a number of professional security qualifications including CISA, CISM, CISSP, CRISC, SCF, and ACP.

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