The cybersecurity industry has been experiencing a persistent skills gap with no end in sight – one that continues to grow as security risks increase. Industry association(ISC)²estimates that the amount of additional trained staff needed to close the skills gap is already more than 4 million professionals worldwide.

Organizations today are faced with the ongoingly difficult task of finding trained security professionals. Colleges and universities are doing their part to educate the next wave of cybersecurity professionals, but though graduates may have book knowledge, few have hands-on experience and know-how within an enterprise security environment.

Academic approaches have their value, but they often lack serious practical application in a live security operations center (SOC) or production environment. One of the challenges of filling the skills gap, then, is that few training and certification programs are focused on real-world issues and technologies.

It's time to consider new candidate pools and learning approaches. Veterans and military spouses represent an under-tapped resource when it comes to filling the cybersecurity skills gap. These individuals are motivated and have the right sort of problem-solving skills and interests, and they are re-entering public life from today's highly digital military.

Why cybersecurity is a great opportunity for veterans

There are currently over 1 million active-duty service embers in the U.S. military and another 800,000 people in the seven reserve components. At this time, approximately 550 service members leave military service every day, and about 250,000 military members are expected to leave each year for the next five years. These veterans are entering the civilian workforce with an average of 15 years of training and experience behind them. Consequently, many of them are transitioning with unique skillsets that make them ideal candidates for careers as cybersecurity professionals.

Veterans' experience is well-suited to cybersecurity. Because today's military is highly technical, many of these men and women have been trained to use some of the most sophisticated technologies in the world. Consequently, much of their situational, hands-on experience translates to the cybersecurity battlefield. Situational awareness, maintaining security, intelligence gathering and support for a chain of command are all skills that translate well to a role in cybersecurity. Also, many of these individuals also possess security clearances, which are not only expensive for private organizations to obtain and maintain but can also take up to 18 months to obtain.

Cybersecurity remains a growing concern for companies and firms. Getty

When military service members leave active duty, they can provide significant value to the cybersecurity field with the traits and skills they developed during their years of service and that complement the industry. A Fortinet report on the cybersecurity skills shortage found that most organizations recognize this value, with 57% of U.S. respondents affirming that their cybersecurity team had hired at least one veteran. While the roles of veterans vary, almost half (45%) transitioned into their civilian careers by starting as security administrators or SOC specialists.

In addition, at least one C-suite executive is a veteran or is married to one in 43% of respondents. A majority (80%) that fall within this category have or had worked for their company for at least five years. These employees usually demonstrate a strong work ethic and attention to details and are successful in fast-paced, high-stress environments, according to 40% of their colleagues.

How the industry can bring veterans into the field

Even though there are veterans occupying executive management positions and cybersecurity roles, only 49% of U.S. respondents reported that their organizations have a hiring program specific to veterans, and only 22% have one specific to their husbands and wives.

More needs to be done on this front. Organizations are helping veterans successfully transition into careers as security professionals in several ways – by providing professional networking, training in the latest networking and security technologies, and mentoring in business expectations.

There is a natural synergy between participating in a national defense unit in the ArmedServices and defending critical information for businesses and government agencies. Cyber skills programs that work with vets capitalize on that. These programs provide benefits such as professional networking, training in the latest security and networking technologies, interview coaching, resume review and revision, and mentoring.

Cyber skills programs geared toward veterans first introduce them to the idea of a career in the cybersecurity industry, combined with the promises of assistance with securing internships or employment. Positions may be available at an organization hosting the program, with one of their key partners, or with companies that belong to a cooperative of regional or vertical organizations.

A true win-win scenario

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and Veterans' Day will follow soon after. These two events, so close on the calendar, now represent a converging of awareness of the necessity to fill an urgent skills gap and to honor those who have served the country. Veterans bring skills and aptitudes that add value to cybersecurity organizations; creating training programs and mentoring is an activity that makes business sense.

(Sandra Wheatley is the senior vice president, marketing, threat intelligence and influencer communications at Fortinet.)