DeVry University CEO Roundtable Recap

Innovative Solutions to the Cyber Talent Gap

By Tom Monahan

May 25, 2023
15 min read

At DeVry University, we’re focused on helping people thrive in a world of constant technological change. As we reconvened our CEO Roundtable in May 2023, it was clear to all participants that change was coming faster than ever, creating both opportunities and challenges. During the 6 months since our last gathering, we’d experienced a dizzying shift in the tech talent economy.

In this, our second discussion open to leaders and career seekers, we pondered how the development of the last 6 months, and perhaps the next 6 months, would affect IT and cyber security hiring strategies. How, in such a short period of time, could the state of this economy have shifted so seismically that employers who were saying, “We can’t find talent” 6 months ago were now saying, “We may actually not need talent?”

Our session reunited DeVry University CEO Tom Monahan with a panel of 6 tech leaders: 

  • Esther Lee, cyber security partner with Ernst and Young (EY)

  • Ankur Gopal, CEO of IT services provider Interapt

  • Ashwin Bharath, CEO and co-founder of Revature

  • Navid Jam, principal partner for cyber response services at KPMG

  • Eric Fusilero, VP of global enablement and education at Splunk

  • Christie Gragnani-Woods, senior VP for talent acquisition at Bank of America

Innovative Solutions to the Cyber Talent Gap: 3 Takeaways

  1. A.I. Will Influence the Tech Talent Economy in Different Ways

    Artificial intelligence (AI) represents a double-edged sword in relation to the tech talent economy. Because of its “deep fake” capabilities, it could usher in a new and unprecedented cyberattack threat level for which organizations and governments are ill prepared. It may simultaneously have positive effects, such as closing the skills gap between entry-level and mid-level employees and delivering benefits like more predictive analytics and better detective analytics. Another potential benefit may be AI’s ability to streamline the decoding process, thereby saving precious time and resources.

  2. To Close the Tech Talent Gap, Explore Non-Traditional Career Pathways 

    Upskilling, reskilling and continuous learning have never been more important than they are now, and should be prioritized. Non-traditional career pathways like certificate programs, online learning platforms, technical colleges and boot camps can prepare tech talent outside of the conventions of 4-year degree programs. Sponsorship and mentorship programs can lift the confidence of early-stage career seekers and entry-level talent, thereby  closing a persistent “belief gap.” After joining the workforce, career seekers must be given the time and space they need to continue developing their skills and “future-proofing” their careers through continuous learning.

  3. Through Alternative Methods of Sourcing Talent, Employers Can Maintain DEI Commitments

    Employers can make progress toward closing the tech talent gap while maintaining their commitments to DEI by considering alternative methods of sourcing talent and re-examining degree requirements for IT and cyber security jobs. It will take education and courage, but tech employers can meet the moment by reaching out to people from marginalized or underrepresented communities, even those who may have never considered a career in technology, and welcoming them into the tech workforce. There are proven ways to find the right talent for the right roles, skill them up and deploy them in a way that ensures they are nurtured and allowed to grow and develop a sense of belonging.  

The Tech Talent Economy and Pathways to Success

We began our discussion by zooming in on how the evolving tech talent environment is changing talent development strategies. The media has recently been fixated on a couple of technology stories – the major layoffs by a handful of household-name Silicon Valley brands and the consumer debut of generative AI, which has major implications for technology and society.

Bank of America’s Christie Gragnani-Woods expressed concern that negative news around the recent tech layoffs might create a “wall of worry” for career seekers, but was encouraged by an April jobs report that saw a lift in the labor market.

Our executives agreed that enterprises that are always hiring, whether they be financial services players like Bank of America or tech companies like Revature, should focus on talent with transferable skills that enable young adults who are just beginning their careers to come into different parts of an organization.

Woods emphasized how important it is for career seekers to recognize all of the skills they have and the fact that different skills fit into different career paths. She said, “Things aren't linear. They can go vertical, horizontal or diagonal, or they can take a step back in order to get a step ahead.”

Revature’s Ashwin Bharath described the current technology hiring trend as having a multiple personality disorder with “pockets of greatness” among a landscape of status quo. He says the global pandemic brought on a forced digitization in many industries, which led to a lot of speculative hiring, to which companies are making corrections now.

Interapt’s Ankur Gopal agreed, adding that big tech layoffs notwithstanding, there is not enough talent supply for the demand that currently exists, particularly in cyber security and AI. “If you look at the data, there are 750,000 openings in cyber security and currently 1.1 million people working in the field,” he emphasized. Hinting to a perception issue within the talent pipeline, he added, “To be honest, most people think cyber security is hacking and they're just not hackers, so they don't look at cyber security as a career.”

The Effect of AI on Emerging Talent Demand

As tech companies try to determine their wants and needs, they are also trying to build the pathways and processes necessary to build the departments that will meet those needs. Rather than reducing the demand for cyber programmers or programs, it’s likely that AI will just adapt, simplifying the skills needed by new talent with non-traditional backgrounds to thrive in those sort of roles and environments, given the right training and with the right mindset. Considering the current shortage, employers will have to find creative and sustainable methods for building talent.

How is the cyber threat landscape changing? Realizing the potential for AI to usher in a new, unprecedented level of deep-fake sophistication, organizations and governments need to be ready to respond to the shifts in the threat landscape made possible by AI. It’s a topic that the Group of 7 nations included on the agenda of its gathering during the week following our roundtable, as they planned to have the first conversations among the world’s largest democracies about a common framework for the use of generative AI.

Comparing AI to the hammer and chisel, KPMG’s Navid Jam said 500 years ago, the hammer was an innovative and versatile tool that could be used to build or destroy. AI is today’s hammer, being wielded by innovative threat actors to expand their reach as it enables them to carry out the kind of wider-scale attacks that were once the domain of nation-state actors.

But on a more positive note, AI could have the effect of democratizing the cyber workforce, closing the skills gap between entry-level and mid-level employees, enabling entry-level hires to perform at a higher level and do more with less. Jam says AI tools could be used, for example, to streamline the decoding process, saving precious time and resources.

Esther Lee of EY shared Jam’s view of AI, adding that AI can be thought of as two sides of the same coin – something useful and evil at the same time. In cyber security, she said AI has the potential to deliver benefits like more predictive analytics and better detective analytics because cyber is such a data-rich field and one where nobody really has the perfect formula of detection technologies and other preventive measures for real-time detection. 

Developing and “Future-Proofing” Talent

Eric Fusilero of Splunk emphasized how upskilling, reskilling and continuous learning have never been more important than they are today and should be prioritized. Non-traditional pathways such as certifications, online learning platforms, technical colleges and coding boot camps can prepare talent for success outside of the conventions of 4-year degree programs. 

Technologies themselves, like Splunk and others, are likely to have their own vast training modalities and learning partnerships with schools and workforce training organizations, creating opportunities along non-traditional pathways. And while these modalities and pathways have enormous potential, they are limited by the capacity for adult learners to make the time to commit to the training. Career seekers need to be given the time and space to develop skills and, once they’ve joined the workforce, “future proof” themselves through continuous learning. Organizations need to do the same by using a data-driven approach to determine tomorrow’s needs.

DEI and the Tech Talent Gap

An overarching objective acknowledged by all roundtable participants is to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Organizations are asking how they can make strides in this area, but in the broader economy, the Fed now estimates we could lose about 1.5 million jobs this year. Historically, whenever we go through a period of economic correction or contraction, the burden falls disproportionately on underrepresented communities or people of color, as well as less-educated workers. Is there a consensus that, this time, it will be somehow different? Will employers’ commitments to DEI wain as the job market tightens up?

Ankur Gopal of Interapt offered a unique perspective in relation to DEI and building talent. Being somewhat challenged by locating in Louisville, a small market without the talent-sourcing potential of a major metro area, he and his team had to build talent from within out of necessity. He says what they found were plenty of people willing to work, with plenty of aptitude, but lacking career guidance. Gopal said he was forced to build a second business, a workforce development enterprise, to meet his clients’ demands to find the right talent for the right roles, skill them up and deploy them in a way in which they are heard, nurtured and allowed to grow. He said, “There is still a talent shortage out there, and if you’re not willing to look at alternative methods of sourcing that talent, you’re going to lose your competitive position, lose shareholder value, and you will not be able to retain talent at the level you need to remain in business.”

Gopal and his team want to get people who may have traditionally been left behind or marginalized into the tech workforce. He believes we will see more of this happen organically and by necessity, with positive results for revenue generation, companies and society.

It Takes Education and Courage

Our leaders agreed that the creation of non-traditional career pathways is good for business, shareholders, investors and communities. Since her organization made an unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion in talent sourcing and development in 2018, the biggest change Bank of America’s Christie Gragnani-Woods has seen is how CEO councils throughout the country are bringing employers to the table with ideas and methodologies to reskill employees. She said progress here ultimately comes down to 2 things: ducation and courage. Organizations looking to fill the talent gap need to “tap in harder” to higher education and encourage people from marginalized communities to look at careers they may not have considered, or that they feel were outside their grasp due to rigid education or certification requirements. In turn, career seekers need to summon the courage to take new pathways once they are created.

How do you shift from exposure to engagement and bridge the chasm between a learning environment and a working environment? Splunk’s Eric Fusilero emphasized the need for messaging around technology opportunities in data and cyber security, and follow-through with sponsorship, mentorship and pathways to belonging. Internally, he believes employee resource groups can be used to reach out with the right messages to external communities.

Developing Talent Internally

Following up on Woods’ comments about sourcing talent from underserved communities, Esther Lee of EY said many people coming from those backgrounds have just not been exposed to technology, and the professional community has a responsibility to support and enrich education programs that will expose youth to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) education at an earlier age. Calling into the meeting from Bucharest, Johnson acknowledged the irony of talking about developing talent from within while “chasing” tech talent on another continent.

Navid Jam of KPMG acknowledged how the increasingly diverse workforce is changing the way mentorships and apprenticeships are delivered in professional services firms. He said such programs were life-changing for him, confirming his passion to get into a tech career, opening doors and helping him to sharpen skills. His firm is deeply immersed in programs to hire, train and retain talent, including summer cyber internships and programs throughout the year.

What career seekers really need to have, according to Jam, is a sort of intellectual curiosity and self-motivation to push themselves beyond their formal training and ask the right questions, like: “How does this work?” and “Why is it behaving this way?”

Closing the Belief Gap

Alongside recruiting innovations, compelling and exciting pathways can be created inside organizations through sponsorship and mentorship programs that lift the confidence of career seekers and entry-level employees, closing what the panel described as a “belief gap.” Accessing and activating new pools of talent makes the workforce more diverse, but also requires companies to devise new pathways, which could consist of sponsorship and mentorship programs, to help people continue to feel as though they belong.

Ashwin Bharath of Revature said if we want to solve America’s tech opportunity gap, we must first solve the belief gap. He said Revature has, to date, employed more than 12,000 software engineers and not a single one had the ability to be productive right from day one. Most of them never believed they could be software engineers, nor did they have friends or family members who worked in IT-related jobs, but they did have the underlying skills to do the job.

Bharath says an effective approach to recruiting more IT and cyber professionals and closing the belief gap would be to make career entry accessible, affordable and affable. Don’t make it scary for them, don’t require them to take on huge amounts of debt, and make the process more friendly to help boost their confidence.

Have we Created a “Paper Ceiling” That Restricts Career Advancement?

There was agreement among the executives that to fill talent needs, create and sustain a more inclusive workforce and provide opportunities for upward mobility, employers need to reexamine degree requirements. Woods at Bank of America acknowledged that the vast majority of jobs in her organization don’t require a degree, and individuals with a certification and some skilling may bring contributions that are just as valuable as those made by individuals with 4-year degrees.

She added that part-time apprenticeships or full-time summer internships are vehicles that give those who are in school the exposure to the work environment and work experience to help them determine their longer-term career goals.

Revature’s Bharath points out that, while degree holders may be given a preference for many positions, and he is a big believer in higher education, he believes jobs should be “degree agnostic.”

He says he’s seen a lot of improvement, especially from the diversity and ESG (environmental, social and governance) perspectives. One example of this change is the recent move by some state governments to eliminate the 4-year-degree requirement for many jobs, including those in IT. Bharath says the federal government should follow suit, thereby further democratizing opportunities and helping people to (quoting Mahatma Ghandhi) “be the change they want to be.”

Ankur Gopal of Interapt agreed, saying that just because you don’t require a degree for a particular job, it doesn’t mean you’re anti-degree. It means you acknowledge the fact that we have college graduates who can’t pass code ability tests, and non-degree holders represent a new channel of talent that employers can tap into to remain competitive.

Shoring Up the Talent Supply Chain

During the global pandemic we all became acquainted a bit more with global supply chains and, most consequently, the difficulties in getting microprocessors, or chips, that go into so many consumer products – even those you wouldn’t think need to use them.  DeVry University CEO Tom Monahan closed the roundtable session by proposing that we look at the talent supply chain as a real supply chain. To the point made by most of the leaders, the talent supply chain is simultaneously the most important to our economy and our future, but also the least well-connected and orchestrated. The opportunity before us is to treat the talent supply chain as an interconnected set of assets that need to be reliably delivered to meet our economy’s needs. 

The “Lightning Round”

Mr. Monahan asked each of the roundtable executives how they would solve the talent gap, if the problem were theirs and theirs alone to solve and they had any resources at their disposal, from a massive budget to a magic wand they could wave to make the problem disappear. Here are their responses:

Christie Gragnani-Woods of Bank of America said she already has all the workforce development partners she could possibly want, but as a former elementary school teacher, she would love to see more connectivity between high schools, community colleges and 4-year colleges so that employers could work with them to tap into all of that talent at a very early stage.

Navid Jam of KPMG agreed, recalling his experiences as a 15 and 16-year-old working with NASA and Oracle. That connectivity between employers and high school students, along with events and sponsorships, can give students the exposure needed to expand their horizons.

Ankur Gopal of Interapt responded by saying he’d shut down his company because the equity and talent problems would be solved and he’d happily make that announcement to every employee.

Esther Lee of EY, echoing the education theme, said she’d like to see public education institutions being able to pivot much faster to keep pace with changing technologies as they develop technology-aligned curricula. She also emphasized the importance of paying forward the mentorship and support we’re given by others.

Splunk’s Eric Fusilero said his solution would be to synchronize all of the local, regional and global strategies for talent development across the ecosystem to accelerate skills at the scale and urgency that’s needed. He said there are existing solutions that could be adopted, operationalized and invested in, and programs that are working tremendously well, but he fears that, instead of working together and sharing best practices, we’re still trying to reinvent the wheel.

Revature’s Ashwin Bharath sees himself as a dreamer and, with his magic wand, would create a platform to bring together the collective brilliance that he knows exists to provide a connection to mentors so that anyone, no matter where they are, could reach out and ask for career guidance. He believes that would be a game-changing action. 

About Thomas L. Monahan III

President & Chief Executive Officer, DeVry University

Thomas L. Monahan III is president and chief executive officer of DeVry University. He is responsible for articulating the University’s vision, mission and values with internal and external stakeholders, as well as supporting and enhancing the institution’s academic mission and overall operations.

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