More than half of cybersecurity professionals agree that people don’t need a university degree to have a successful career in cybersecurity, despite 85% of those professionals holding degrees related to IT, computer science technology.

Forty-five percent of respondent to a cybersecurity industry talent shortage conducted on behalf of Trellix reported working in careers and professions other than cybersecurity in the past, although more than half had roles in more general information technology environments.

The research into the which offers an extended detection and response (XDR) approach to protecting private and public entities from cybercriminals.

“The cybersecurity world changes so quickly that it’s difficult to study the theory in a university and then apply that knowledge in the working world,” says Carlo Bolzonello, country lead for Trellix in South Africa. “Success in cybersecurity needs an inquisitive and analytic personality, along with the ability to remain composed and calm under pressure.”

This makes a career in cybersecurity a potential opportunity for those among South Africa’s high unemployment statistics, who may otherwise not have considered the field because they believed it requires formal education that they may not be able to afford.

“As someone who started my career in cybersecurity by working in a computer retailer – and who does not have a university degree but has a number of industry-specific qualifications, I encourage South Africans to consider a career in cybersecurity,” Bolzonello says.

“South Africans are world-renowned for their strong work ethic, and their willingness to take on any task, even if it falls beyond their job description. We’re also naturally curious and determined to find a work-around to just about any situation – all attributes that make a strong cybersecurity professional,” he adds.

Respondents to the survey describe a career in cybersecurity as ‘purposeful and motivating’, with more than half choosing the sector because it is progressive and constantly evolving, and they enjoy exploring challenging new trends. Four in ten emphasized the relevance of cybersecurity as business, industry and government become increasingly digitally platformed, with one in five saying that they had chosen the field because the value doing something that helps society for the greater good.

Despite these motivations, a little more than one third of the professionals surveyed felt that there’s a lack of recognition among society for the importance of the work they do.

More than 90% of cybersecurity professionals emphasize that there is a skills gap in their profession, despite a growing demand to fill security-related roles, while more than one third note that there is limited support when it comes to the qualifications and certifications required to enter the industry.

“It’s inspiring to see that 92% of cybersecurity professionals believe that greater mentorship, internships, and apprenticeships would encourage more diversity in cybersecurity roles,” Bolzonello continues.

“They also believe that the three most important steps towards encouraging new candidates in the industry are raising awareness of cybersecurity careers, encouraging students to pursue STEM-related careers throughout their education journey, and more funding to support learning. It’s clear that there’s no single quick fix to the cybersecurity skills challenge, but there are multiple ways to address the various challenges,” he says.

Those surveyed recognised that their own organisations could be doing more to encourage more people into the industry, including broader recruitment drives, community mentoring in schools, and being more open to considering job applicants from non-traditional cybersecurity backgrounds.

Bolzonello, as a self-taught cybersecurity specialist, adds that many local companies are cautious to invest in cybersecurity skills development because, with demand for expertise being so high, they fear that newly skilled workers will leave for greener (better paid) pastures as soon as they’re qualified.

“Companies need to constantly review salaries against market rates to retain skills, but they also need to remember that the fast-changing nature of this sector means that some of the best experts in the game are self-taught, without any formal certifications. Insisting on remunerating people based on their qualifications is counter-intuitive in this field – people should be remunerated based on their skills and experience too.”