STEM needs highlighted as Australian millennials’ cybersecurity awareness continues to lag

Students in Middle East, Singapore, US, UK and others more aware of cybersecurity jobs, practitioners

Young Australians are among the least prepared to enter the cybersecurity profession amongst their peers in 11 other countries, according to a new survey of millennial attitudes towards cybersecurity careers.

Fully 62.8 percent of the 3779 18-to-26-year olds – surveyed by Zogby Analytics on behalf of Raytheon Australia and the US National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) – said that nobody in their high schools had ever mentioned the possibility of a career in cybersecurity.

Australian millennials were generally unaware of what cybersecurity careers involve, with just 35.3 percent – well behind the global average of 45.3 percent – saying they had any awareness of the typical range of responsibilities and job tasks that come with working in cybersecurity.

And just 17.1 percent said they had ever met or spoken to someone working in cybersecurity – well behind the 85.1 percent in Saudi Arabia, 45.3 percent in Turkey, 24.3 percent in Singapore and 21.7 percent in the US. That put Australians well behind the global average of 30.6 percent.

The results “are a reminder that cybersecurity is not just a career of the future,” said Raytheon Australia managing director Michael Ward in a statement in which he emphasised the importance of continuing to motivate young men and women to pursue study in maths and science-related areas.

The deficiencies in Australia’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) teaching were highlighted in the recent CSO-Dell Australia STEM study, which among other findings revealed a lack of resources and leadership around STEM-related subjects.

Some 64.8 percent of teachers said they lacked adequate professional development in integrating technology into their STEM-related education, while 54.7 percent said they lacked funding, 52.3 percent cited time restrictions, and 42.3 percent lacked a structured STEM curriculum.

Such restrictions have led to a significant range of efforts designed to bolster STEM teaching and promotion of cybersecurity careers within Australian schools: last year, for example, six IT-security vendors joined forces to launch Day of STEM, a localised version of the US-based LifeJourney program.

The Raytheon findings also identified a strong gender gap: for example, 35.4 percent of men but just 20.3 percent of women said they were more likely to consider a career in cybersecurity than last year. While 32.3 percent of young men said they had met or spoken to a cybersecurity professional, just 9.3 percent of young women said the same. And while 44.6 percent of men said the idea of a cybersecurity career was raised with them in high school, just 11 percent of women said they had received such a suggestion.

While lagging world benchmarks, the Australian figures showed small gains from similar Raytheon-NCSA surveys from 2015 – when only 13.3 percent of Australian millennials had met or spoken with a practicing cybersecurity professional and just 33.5 percent were aware of the responsibilities that cybersecurity careers involved.

A similar survey, conducted in 2014, found that 40 percent of surveyed millennials said they would like a career that would help make the Internet safer and more secure and that 41 percent had received advice about IT security-related careers.