Strengthening Canada’s Cybersecurity Workforce: The Mission Critical Role of Polytechnics

With the rise of remote and hybrid work, organizations have increasingly moved to cloud-based servers and become reliant on virtual environments. Data breaches and ransomware attacks that threaten to both tarnish a company’s image and inflict severe financial losses are increasingly common. In today’s environment, the need for robust cybersecurity has never been more apparent.

With these concerns, the demand for cybersecurity professionals has skyrocketed. Organizations increasingly need both in-house talent and the support of dedicated cybersecurity firms. Unfortunately, like many technical industries in Canada, cybersecurity experts are in short supply.

One in six cybersecurity jobs in Canada is unfilled, in part due to high compensation that lures talent to the United States. To mitigate this labour shortage, it is more imperative than ever to establish a robust talent pipeline that nurtures domestic cybersecurity expertise.

While many companies rely on their existing IT teams to address cybersecurity requirements, this approach can fall well short of meeting the specialized expertise required. Cybersecurity company Fortinet’s 2023 report on the sector’s skills gaps notes that 90 per cent of companies seek technology-focused certifications when hiring staff. To have an IT professional handle cybersecurity issues has been compared by industry professionals to consulting a general practitioner for specialized surgery. While the advice might be relevant, specialists with targeted expertise are the ones you want leading the charge.

Polytechnics – Canada’s advanced technical and technological post-secondary institutions – are responding to the urgent need for cybersecurity professionals.

Conestoga College has implemented the ConHacks student hackathon. This event both addresses the shortage of entry-level professionals and helps close skill gaps for cybersecurity professionals already in the field. Those who participate gain practical exposure to emerging cybersecurity threats, both refining their technical skills and readying them for the pressures of their future workplaces.

Close connections with industry experts ensure polytechnic programs are relevant and up-to-date.  For example, a collaboration between Fortinet and the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) equips students with essential cybersecurity skills using a constantly evolving curriculum. Fortinet’s Security Academy Program covers topics like threat prevention, network security, endpoint security, cloud security, mobile security and security management. The partnership ensures BCIT can properly equip the next generation of Canadian cybersecurity professionals for high-demand roles in the labour market.

Seneca Polytechnic understands that cybersecurity professionals will require continuous upskilling throughout their career and opportunities to specialize as they gain experience. Seneca offers stackable micro-credentials that enable professionals to upgrade their skills to reflect today’s technologies and security concerns. For example, their Cyber-Investigations and Digital Security for Resilient Communities micro-credentials suite is designed to build investigative and digital security skills to protect an organization’s digital infrastructure and assets.

The incorporation of both micro-learning and work-integrated learning has been welcomed by former students in the field. They report that these approaches both enhance the learning experience and deter cybersecurity professionals from exiting a challenging and stressful field of work prematurely.

Because bad actors continue to come up with new ways to attack our digital systems, strategic investments to safeguard Canada’s digital economy and strengthen the country’s resilience are not short-term in nature. Systems and equipment, instructors and curricula are under constant pressure to stay one step ahead. That requires ongoing investments by academic institutions and the financial support of both business and government partners.

As Canada grapples with the escalating challenges posed by cyber threats, the critical need to build its cybersecurity workforce cannot be overstated. Polytechnics are key contributors, offering tailored programs and hands-on experiences closely aligned with current and emerging needs throughout our economy.

About the Author

Ricardo Arena

Ricardo’s work centres on policy research, writing and advocacy related to the adoption of artificial intelligence and new technology, as well as the alignment of labor market needs and training. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Concordia University.