The Challenge of Retaining IT Security Skills - Blood on HR’s Floor

January 27, 2016  |  Javvad Malik

Just how bad is the challenge of retaining IT security professionals? When I was asked to write this blog, I didn’t know, so I decided to do some research.

Methodology and Scope

The full report is based on an online user survey that gathered 132 responses. I supplemented the findings of this survey with secondary research from industry practitioners and direct conversations with employers.

Key Findings

  • The idea of doing and continuing to do challenging and exciting work is the number one reason that people will decide to change jobs.
  • Location, location, location. Having offices situated outside of major cities will help companies both attract local talent, and also increase their chances of retaining them because of less competitive companies in the same geographic location.
  • Team culture can differ greatly from company culture. Do not assume that both of these are the same.
  • Nearly 65% of participants reported that they are happy and content in their current jobs.

The Way You Make Me Feel

Retaining staff can be a fine balancing act that requires the precision of a NASA engineer landing a rocket on a comet. On one hand, employers need to provide appropriate compensation and working environments for their skilled employees. However, on the other hand, they also need to remain mindful that other companies might still make higher offers to acquire the right candidates.

But this is not a simple black and white case of which company is able to make an employee the best offer. Not all employees have a mercenary attitude towards work and a multitude of other factors also come into play that influence this decision.

I Just Can’t Stop Leaving You

Based on my research, ‘more challenging and exciting work’ was the most popular reason (33.9%) that made skilled IT employees want to change jobs.

Not surprisingly, salary came in at second place (cited by 23.14% of respondents) and flexible work conditions (16.81%) came in third. Training, certification and having the ability to continue to learn new skills was also a leading reason that was often cited as the second or third ranked choice of an employee.

Being unhappy with one’s boss or company culture was an underlying theme across the survey results. Yet, several participants, especially those at larger organisations, felt that a distinction should be made between the company culture and team culture, particularly noting that one could be very satisfied with one’s colleagues and boss while being dissatisfied with the larger company culture.

In contrast, the theme of “people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses” also came up several times. A few participants aired feelings that their bosses were bullying them or deliberately holding them back in their careers.

Some participants felt that the IT industry as a whole dictated the need for an employee to change roles frequently in order to remain relevant. One respondent commented:

“IT is quite a movable field in my opinion. You always want to grow your skillset and it seems the best thing for that is to move after a certain amount of time and have more exposure to different areas. The technical people that I have seen go a bit stale with their knowledge are generally those that have stayed at one place for much of their career and have been happy to stay put. Nothing bad about keeping a job for a long time but if you want to stay on top of your game, you need to be constantly studying and looking at different technology.”

For others, though, the choice is a lot simpler:

“I'm pretty simple. Money / Benefits / Perks. That's it. Unless you hate where you work, you never know if the grass is greener on the other side, unless it is tangibles like mentioned.”

I’ll Be There

On the flip side, we also asked the same respondents what keeps them at their current place of employment.

At 64.86%, the majority of respondents stated that they were happy in their current job. Convenience (19.05%) and money (12.61%) came in at second and third places respectively as the highest ranked reasons for remaining in the current job.

Overall, money, perks and convenience dominated the results as the strongest reasons to stay.


These findings merely scratch the surface of the IT skill shortage situation and probably end up raising more questions that they answer. However, as with matters of the heart – or people – healing the world would require a far more comprehensive study.

What these results reinforce, though, is that staff and employers are all people, each with their individual needs, goals and aspirations. Convenience and undertaking meaningful and challenging work is the biggest motivator for most employees.

IT security is a fortunate field in that it can provide ample variety and challenges for motivated employees. The trick for employers is to build in processes that can provide those challenges to employees where and when they are needed.

However, the buck doesn’t stop with hiring managers and organisations. Professionals also need to take a look at the person in the mirror and define what is important to them. Being clear on personal goals and objectives will help individuals make better decisions to find and stay with the right employer.

Please read the full report for more information.

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