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The global pandemic changed how we lived our digital lives, from how much time we spent online to how we purchased things and worked and learned.
Unfortunately, this surge in online presence has also led to a rise in cyberattacks and cybercrime. Canada’s national security agency (CSIS) reported that “Canada suffers thousands of cyber threat attacks daily.” Clearly, protecting our cyber assets has become more critical than ever before.
Cybersecurity has existed since we started networking computers and connecting them to the internet. However, cybersecurity is much more than “network administration.” Network administrators keep a computer network running; cybersecurity keeps criminals out. Cybersecurity requires technical skills for developing protective software, proper network design, analysis and future design, data security and cryptology, policy and procedure setting, and more.
The global cybersecurity market is projected to reach a staggering USD $366 billion by 2028, fostering a surge in employment opportunities. The Government of Canada Job Bank estimates 113,000 available positions between now and 2028, with excellent job prospects in all provinces.
The demand for cybersecurity professionals stems from the fact that virtually all industries relying on technology or internet connectivity require cybersecurity measures. In fact, there is a worldwide shortage of 3.5 million positions in this sector, as reported by the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security.
Vacancies in Cybersecurity Jobs
With their propensity towards all things digital, young people are a natural fit for this sector, so why the vacancies? One part of the answer is that there are many misconceptions associated with careers in cybersecurity.
Jane Fankland writes that these range from the notion that you have to be a math or computer genius to do this work (you don’t, all skillsets are needed) to the idea that the hours and pay are poor (the average annual salary in Canada is $97,000). Other misconceptions include that this area has a narrow career path with little room for growth (numerous career pathways are available) and that you need lots of experience to land your first job (entry positions and on-the-job training are available).
The fact that this is a male-dominated industry is undoubtedly part of the answer when it comes to why young women don’t go into this field. If young women don’t see other women working in this industry, few will take the risk.
Closing the Cybersecurity Gender Gap
Numerous initiatives strive to close the gender gap in technology and cybersecurity, but it’s a complex challenge. Early stereotypes and biases about STEM careers, both gender-based and trait-based, affect children’s perceptions. To address trait-based stereotypes, boys and girls need opportunities to explore and develop their interests through engaging in STEM activities.
These activities will help them develop problem-solving and decision-making skills. Such activities will help them learn how to break problems into manageable parts and identify which ones to tackle first. Challenging activities help youth develop resilience so that, when they experience a tough situation, they won’t assume they are not “smart enough” and give up. Young people need to see STEM as something they can do.
When it comes to addressing gender-based stereotypes, many organizations are working to increase the number of females in sectors where they are underrepresented (e.g., in STEM and skilled trades). There are also many groups and organizations that support women getting into cybersecurity careers. These include Women Cybersecurity Society, Women in Tech World, and the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology. These groups offer programs to support women moving into careers in the technology sector.
However, since gender stereotypes can form as early as five years of age, it is also important to ensure there are role models and programs start early. Three organizations that teach school-age girls digital literacy and coding skills are Girls Who Code, Canada Learning Code, and Hackergal.
The individuals who deliver these programs become role models for those who participate in their programs. Teachers at all grade levels are implementing digital literacy across subjects. Let’s Talk Science offers free Professional Learning programs to help teachers improve their digital literacy and coding abilities. Various “virtual role models,” including careers in Information Technology and cybersecurity, are available through the Let’s Talk Science STEM careers resource collection.
It is never too early to spark an interest in STEM. This can be done through books that provide examples of women working in STEM. Encourage hands-on play using puzzles and building toys. Celebrate a growth mindset when it comes to learning. Using instructional websites and videos, explore technology with your child. Solve problems and learn to code together. Reach out to organizations such as those listed above. Remember, after you spark an interest, follow through by staying involved.
Many factors affect a child’s career perceptions and, ultimately, their career choices. However, parents can influence their child’s career choices by supporting their interests at a young age and introducing them to the different jobs that people do. If they can see it, they can be it!
Let’s Talk Science is committed to preparing youth in Canada for future careers and citizenship demands in a rapidly changing world.