At a time when intelligence officials say cybersecurity now trumps terrorism as the No. 1 threat to the United States, and with 50 percent of the Department of Defense's (DoD) technical workforce nearing retirement, the need for cyber talent has never been more urgent. To close the gap, the federal government is ramping up recruiting efforts, with the goal of adding more than 6,000 technical specialists by 2016. But the reality is that cyber talent is in high demand, is difficult to find, and is even more difficult to attract.

For the U.S. federal government to effectively build its cyber workforce of the future, agencies must consider adopting new approaches and technologies to streamline critical aspects of recruiting, hiring, workforce planning, and training.

The challenge ahead
At the same time President Obama was outlining his cyber security platform last month, the Twitter and YouTube accounts of U.S. Central Command were hacked. With the increasing digitization of our society and the massive amounts of personal and sensitive information circling the globe every nanosecond, it is all too clear that strong cybersecurity is vital to keeping government, private sector, employer and citizen information safe.

The federal government faces a tough road ahead competing with the private sector recruiting and retaining cyber professionals. While the federal government's mission will always be a compelling draw for talent, the private sector's hiring agility, higher compensation packages and career development opportunities will pose a challenge to federal hiring. So how then should the government attract and secure these essential workers?

Step 1: Determine what you have
Before being able to accurately predict the federal cyber talent that is needed, whether it's 200 Incident Responders or 100 Disaster Recovery Analysts, government agencies must first understand which competencies their workforce already possesses.

According to a recent study from Government Business Council (GBC) and Monster Government Solutions, this critical assessment step is being skipped more and more frequently. In fact, according to the study, federal agencies report that they tend to rely on informal processes and incomplete data when conducting workforce planning--and 34 percent of the federal employees surveyed stated that their agencies do not gather data on competencies at all. Not surprisingly, the study also revealed that 80 percent of managers agreed or strongly agreed that up-to-date information on competencies would improve their ability to manage personnel, including staff changes and reductions. So making assessments of existing competencies would be a good place for the federal government to start.

Once information on existing workforce competencies has been gathered, federal government agencies can begin to more accurately assess existing competency gaps and develop a recruitment strategy that meets hiring objectives and is cost-effective.

Step 2: Finding "passive" cyber talent
One of the major challenges in recruiting highly sought after technical talent is that they are often well-employed, and aren't necessarily actively applying for new positions--the definition of the "passive" job seeker. With so much competition from the private sector, federal government agencies should take a more proactive approach to finding the next generation of cyber experts.

Recruiters are increasingly going beyond the resume to locate top technical talent, whether it's engaging with candidates within popular online IT communities or evaluating talent based on the thought-leadership--presentations, blog posts--that they've made available online. Today's recruiting tools leverage analytics to quickly sift through mountains of online data to deliver a far more complete picture of the best available cybersecurity professionals.

Step 3: Keep your cyber experts
When recruiting any future employee, it is important that federal government agencies ensure those candidates understand the organization's mission and the potential impact their work can have for the nation's greater good. Ensuring that cyber professionals know and understand the critical nature of their work will not only help to attract the optimal candidate, but will also serve as an incentive of sorts to potential hires. The mission of our nation's security is vital, and being a part of that mission is something current and potential federal employees can be proud of.

The second thing that can help the federal government obtain and retain cyber professionals is to offer a more comprehensive view of the incentive compensation package during the hiring process. Ensuring candidates understand not only the public service they are providing, but also the retirement, healthcare and vacation plans they will receive, along with other incentives like training is important. Because the market for cyber talent is increasingly competitive, articulating why certain jobs are impactful and touting benefits may better ensure the best candidates take notice.

Building our cyber workforce
As Lt. Gen. McLaughlin further stated in the fall of 2014, the U.S. is behind other nations in producing high school and college graduates with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math. Educating our youth remains a critical step in ensuring we produce and foster this important population, and while working to obtain the very best cyber professionals is of absolute importance, so is ensuring that we continue to advocate for and develop the cyber workforce in the U.S.

While initiatives like the U.S. Cyber Challenge (USCC), with whom Monster is a partner, are currently working to address this education gap by hosting camps and competitions that identify, attract, recruit and place the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, the road ahead for creating and developing our nation's cyber workforce pipeline is as important as it is challenging.
By implementing best practices and continuing to advocate for public and private partnerships that move the needle on cyber talent, we can help the federal government build the strongest and most viable cybersecurity workforce in the world.