If you hang around security professionals on Twitter, LinkedIn or at conferences for any length of time then you’ll almost certainly see or hear a conversation about “the skills gap” and how school and university leavers either lack ability, formal qualifications or the inclination to join an industry we hear, time and again, is crying out for an increasing stream of recruits.
The lack of young people entering the security profession certainly is alarming, and does need addressing, but it is not the only age group in which a digital skills gap can present issues.
According to adult education charity Niace, a lack of education and training among elder workers is also an issue.
In its annual survey, the charity discovered that less than a third of 55-64 year olds were involved in any kind of learning, despite being the demographic least likely to have any computer skills. The survey, which canvassed around 6,000 adults in the UK, also learned that people from lower socio-economic groups were also likely to have a lower than ideal level of digital skills.
In the past, perhaps, a lack of computer knowledge could be seen as a disadvantage but now of course, computers are almost an essential part of everyone’s working life, meaning basic skills are a must for pretty well everyone of working age, a situation exasperated by the fact that we live in an ageing society in which the majority of people are finding themselves having to retire much later than in the past.
Commenting on the survey’s findings, Niace chief executive David Hughes said:
We are pretty worried about the digital area of learning, if you look at the number of people who never got any digital skills, it’s dominated by older people.
Any low numbers of participation are worrying, then you start thinking about the technological changes in the workplace and about the people in that age group not being able to even access government services online.
Our current economic challenges combined with an ageing population mean people will have extended working lives, learning throughout, which has never been more important.
So, as Hughes says, a lack of digital skills in any age group is a problem, not only for the individual, but for the economy as a whole, but that is not only because of the effects it has upon productivity and constraints upon levels of achievement.
It also has a profound effect on security.
If you are running a business, or heading up a security function, you may already know that people tend to pose the biggest risks to your intellectual property and other information, irrespective of what technical controls you may happen to employ.
How then do you manage an ageing workforce that may not be overly computer literate, given that means those same people will almost certainly know even less about security, thereby making them far more susceptible to phishing scams, social engineering and other ruses that could lead your organisation into data breach territory or create other security headaches?
Do you have policies and other controls in place that recognise the differences between the various members of staff in your organisation, that recognise the differences between age groups and the sexes in terms of attitude and behaviour, and do you aspire to keep everyone aware of new threats, common scams and armed with enough knowledge to avoid the most risky forms of behaviour?
If not, why not?