Earlier this year, retailer Indigo Books & Music took a major digital blow: the iconic Canadian giant’s e-commerce website was abruptly shut down due to a “cybersecurity incident.”
It was hardly the only recent cyber security issue in Canada. Last year saw organizations including LCBO and SickKids Hospital face digital assaults such as data breaches and ransomware attacks.
Cyberattacks “have increased in many industry sectors, both in Canada and internationally,” Michelle Wasylyshen, spokesperson for Retail Council of Canada, observed in 2022.
Cyberattacks increased globally by 38% from 2021 to 2022, according to data from Check Point Research. The need for cybersecurity professionals has never been greater, but Canada sees one in six cybersecurity jobs sit empty.
This is a significant challenge for the country’s digital economy.
From 2019 to 2021, the labour market grew from 84,000 to 123,000, but the gap in supply and demand did not close. Canada’s digital economy is in need of a robust cyber workforce, with 25,000 cybersecurity jobs currently unfilled in the country.
“Despite increased spending in cybersecurity, there are numerous structural challenges facing the field,” a report from the Information and Communications Technology Council titled “Cybersecurity Talent Development: Protecting Canada’s Digital Economy” warned last year.
While high compensation packages are available and job security is high, factors such as burnout, students opting out of cybersecurity education, and competition from the US contribute to a shortfall.
Taking on these challenges is an array of companies bringing different solutions to the table.
Ashley Mataya, Senior Manager of Cyber Partnerships at Lighthouse Labs, believes we need more women in the cyber field.
“The sooner we can attract young women into STEM careers, the better,” she wrote for TechTalent.ca in September.
Meanwhile the government is trying to convert Ukrainian refugees into cybersecurity specialists in Ontario.
Let’s break down some promising cybersecurity talent pipeline solutions being built in Canada, from online Google certifications to in-person, hackathon-style events.
The Catalyst Cyber Accelerator, a program of Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst at Toronto Metropolitan University, is the foremost cybersecurity-focused business accelerator in Canada.
The program is designed to help early-stage cybersecurity companies grow into industry leaders, which in turn helps address Canada’s shortage of cybersecurity professionals.
“The Catalyst Cyber Accelerator has been focused on developing and guiding a program that can deliver value,” stated Sumit Bhatia, Director of Innovation and Policy at Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst.
Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst recently announced the release of the Catalyst Cyber Accelerator Report, a publication tracking the growth of 39 Canadian cybersecurity startups and scale-ups.
The report shows that Catalyst-accelerated startups have created more than 300 new jobs, growing their workforces by an average of 72% after graduating. And combined, they have fundraised more than $100 million in capital.
Alumni also hold nearly 40 granted patents across technology categories such as quantum computing, behavioural biometrics, and AI and machine learning algorithms.
“Being a part of the larger Catalyst ecosystem offers us a unique advantage compared to traditional incubator or accelerator programs,” said Bhatia. “The Catalyst Cyber Accelerator takes a curated approach to supporting our Founders with programming and mentorship while also providing access to resources, talent, research partnerships, and a seat at our policy table.”
Graduates of Catalyst Cyber Accelerator include CycurID, Forward Security, and MergeBase, which first raised capital in 2020.
Supported by the Government of Canada, Rogers Communications, Royal Bank of Canada, and the City of Brampton, the 18-week Catalyst Cyber Accelerator program is free to join.
“We are always so proud to see the continuous success and growth of the Catalyst Cyber Accelerator as they expand operations and provide a platform that unites cybersecurity startups, mentors and leaders from government, academia and industry,” stated Patrick Brown, Mayor of the City of Brampton, where the program is headquartered.
Google, in response to the pressing need for cybersecurity professionals, has launched the Google Cybersecurity Certificate as the newest addition to its Google Career Certificates program.
The certificate is designed to prepare learners for entry-level careers in cybersecurity within six months, with no prior experience required.
The company’s cybersecurity experts design and teach the Cybersecurity Certificate, which will expand pathways to entry-level cybersecurity careers. The Certificate will provide learners with hands-on experience using Python, Linux, SQL, and Security Information and Event Management tools. Learners will also come to identify common risks, threats, and vulnerabilities and the techniques to mitigate them.
Upon completion, learners will be prepared for the CompTIA Security+ exam, an industry-leading certification for cybersecurity roles, and earn a dual credential.
Google is also working with Canada Learning Code and ComIT to offer scholarships to their network and provide learners with facilitated workshops, course guidance, and professional coaching, ensuring that those with an interest in cybersecurity can put it into action.
In addition, Google stated that it is working with two dozen employers on a “consortium of companies that consider graduates for relevant open roles” for a program they call Talent Match.
“The consortium includes companies like Unilever, MNP, DataFinery, Helcim and Mosaic who are committed to considering hiring our future cybersecurity graduates,” Google says. “This program helps with interview prep and job placement assistance to improve the pipeline of non-traditional talent and remove barriers to employment.”
Over 19,000 people have graduated from the Google Career Certificate program in Canada, with 76% of Canadian graduates reporting a positive career impact, such as a new job, higher pay, or promotion within six months of completion.
“Our goal is to empower the future cyber workforce by sharing our expertise, expanding pathways, forming strong partnerships with industry partners to drive solutions at scale,” stated Sam Sebastian, Vice President of Google Cloud Canada. “We look forward to working with the industry to create a robust, more inclusive cyber workforce with the expertise to navigate the evolving cyber landscape and build a safer world for everyone.”
The British Columbia Institute of Technology and Cisco Canada partnered in 2022 on the Industrial Network Cybersecurity Lab to address the global demand for cybersecurity talent.
The INC Lab is a state-of-the-art facility for students in BCIT’s INC diploma program that merges cybersecurity and industrial network skills with game-based learning and real-world scenarios.
Taught alongside Cisco Networking Academy, students learn to defend against cyberthreats to industrial, manufacturing, and critical infrastructure organizations.
“The INC program is a direct response to the industry’s growing need for cybersecurity skills to protect critical infrastructure and keep our communities running,” David Leversage, Program Champion, BCIT, stated last year. “The INC Lab gives students an edge; they hone their skills using the same industrial controls and latest Cisco technology found in the real-world.”
“The financial impact of cybercrime is set to cost the world $10.5 trillion by 2025,” added Shannon Leininger, president, Cisco Canada. “As more of our infrastructure is digitized—utilities, petroleum, food supply systems and more—it is critical that we have the talent to protect our industrial networks from threats and attacks.”
Cisco Canada invested in the INC Lab by providing Networking Academy curriculum and technology that simulates control systems found in industrial settings like manufacturing plants and facilities.
“There is no other institution in North America that offers this type of immersive experience,” believes Leversage, “and our in-demand graduates can pursue high-paying jobs in one of the hottest job markets.”
The investment was made through Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration program, which forms strategic partnerships with governments to help build the workforce of the future.
The BCIT Industrial Network Cybersecurity program was first launched in 2019 as a collaboration between the School of Energy and the School of Computing and Academic Studies.
An initial cohort of 20 has since doubled to an intake of 40.
CyberSci runs a series of regional cyber challenge events in major cities across Canada each year.
Canadian universities and colleges send up to two teams of four students to the designated venue in their region. These student teams are then presented with a realistic corporate network that forces them to think like an attacker to penetrate the defences and expose the vulnerabilities.
“The challenge style uses realistic scenarios and vulnerabilities seen in the day-to-day work of our organizing team,” the nonprofit explains.
Last year’s challenge winners included teams from the University of Waterloo, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Toronto.
At the end, an autumn hiring event helps place challengers with companies.
“We do hacking in the morning, interviews in the afternoon, and [intern and co-op] job offers by supper,” according to CyberSci.
CyberSci says it works to enhance Canada’s cyber security capacity by “enticing bright and energetic individuals to join our country’s ranks of cyber security professionals.” The organization has partnered with more than three dozen schools and worked with over 800 students.