Study finds cybersecurity leaders face global hiring challenges

ISACA has released its annual State of Cybersecurity 2021 survey report which reveals concerning trends around hiring and staff retention continue in the cyber workforce. The global study of more than 3,600 cyber security leaders reports consistent challenges finding qualified, well-rounded candidates, while understaffed teams remain strongly correlated to an increasing number of cyber-attacks.

Positively, the cybersecurity workforce was largely spared the pandemic devastation experienced by other sectors, but the survey found that longstanding issues persist.

Respondents in Australia and New Zealand report similar views to their global colleagues including:

  • 66% of respondents indicate that their cybersecurity teams are understaffed (61% globally).
  • 59% say they have unfilled cybersecurity positions (55% globally).
  • 52% say their cybersecurity applicants are not well qualified (50% globally).
  • Only 35% say HR regularly understands their cybersecurity hiring needs (31% globally).

Additionally, soft skills remain the biggest skills gap according to 68% of respondents in Australia and New Zealand followed by security controls (34%) and data related areas (33%).

The results also show that 59% of respondents in Australia and New Zealand had difficulty retaining talent last year during the pandemic citing the top three reasons for staff leaving as being recruited by another company (64%), lack of financial incentives (56%) and limited promotion and development opportunities (51%).

Staff Gaps and Attacks Linked

As in years past, the findings show that retention issues and increased cyberattacks are somewhat interrelated. Globally, 68% of respondents who experienced more cyberattacks in the past report being somewhat or significantly understaffed, and 63% who experienced more cyberattacks in the past indicated they have experienced difficulties retaining qualified cybersecurity professionals.

“It has become even more evident in the past year just how vital cybersecurity is to ensuring business continuity, yet the years-long struggle to staff these teams continues,” said Jonathan Brandt, ISACA information security professional practices lead.

“As a global cybersecurity community, it is imperative that we all come together to recalibrate how we hire, train and retain our future cyber leaders to ensure we have a solid workforce to meet these evolving cybersecurity needs.”

Hiring and Skills Challenges Persist

Despite the high demand for cybersecurity jobs, 50% of those surveyed globally generally do not believe that their applicants are well qualified. Additionally, only 27% of all survey respondents say that recent graduates in cybersecurity are well-prepared, though 58% indicate that they require a degree for entry-level cybersecurity positions. Global respondents note that they also seek prior hands-on cybersecurity experience (95%), credentials (89%) and hands-on training (81%) when determining whether a candidate is qualified. Organisations are addressing these challenges by:

  1. Training non-security staff who are interested in moving to security roles (43%)
  2. Increasing usage of contract employees or outside contractors (37%)
  3. Increasing use of reskilling programs (23%)
  4. Increasing use of performance-based training to build hands-on skill (22%)
  5. Increasing reliance on AI/automation (22%)

For a complimentary copy of State of Cybersecurity 2021 Part 1, insights from industry leaders and related resources, visit