Gamification in Tech

Damon Culbert from Cybersecurity Professionals, cyber security jobs worldwide looks at methods in the recruitment process.

With technology constantly advancing and cybercriminals finding new ways to  compromise computers every day, cyber security professionals are finding it difficult to keep up. As a result, the global tech industry is short around 4 million specialists and it’s predicted that the UK alone will see a shortage of 3.5 million by 2021

As more and more office chairs sit empty, recruiters are having to come up with increasingly attractive ways to draw in the best candidates for their roles. One strategy that a number of leading businesses have tried their hand at is gamification.

With businesses using VR for immersive office tours or simulated challenges and mixed reality experiences to make job applications seem more attractive, gamification is having an interesting effect on the recruitment industry.

Traditionally, the tech shortage has been characterised by inflated wages and social culture innovations to ensure promising candidates are kept in much-needed roles. However, as the skills gap grows ever wider and new technology emerges every day, recruiters are facing an uphill battle against diminishing candidate numbers.

Why are we so short of tech skills?

These emerging technologies are of particular concern for cybersecurity professionals. With every new interconnected device comes new opportunities for vulnerabilities so businesses must be aware of the more robust security needs of their offices. However, as this technology is still new, there are fewer and fewer security professionals with the necessary skills, further expanding the shortage.

In addition to the complex technical skill requirements of most businesses, many recruitment professionals find tech vacancies, particularly at management levels, difficult to fill due to a lack of soft skills. Where tech professionals can evidence their technical ability, many lack skills in problem solving, organisation and people management to progress into much-needed management roles.

Are graduates ready for the workforce?

A concern that plagues most workforces, many businesses claim that recent graduates in cyber security or computer science are unprepared for work. For cyber security, this is especially significant thanks, in part, to the rapid growth of the industry. Higher education institutions may already be providing training which is nearly obsolete while new technologies which are barely years old are leading business decisions around hiring.

Some universities may see this disconnect and conclude that to change their curriculum to align with industry will only result in further obsolescence in the near future. The biggest challenge facing the industry right now is matching talent development with the rate of product innovation to ensure that businesses can remain competitive while still being able to confidently protect themselves and their clients.

Neither higher education institutions or businesses can do this alone so collaboration will be essential in tackling the ever-widening gap both in the UK and globally.

Why gamification?

Gamification is being used by recruiters as an alternative way to tackle the skills shortage. By making the application process as interactive and cutting-edge as possible, recruiters can draw in large numbers of candidates to help boost their talent pools. Additionally, by engaging candidates in unexpected ways, recruiters can gauge their skills more completely before they enter the position. This could reduce the chances of hiring a candidate who may have been more confident in a traditional interview session but less competent in the actual role.

In the past, Jaguar used a mixed reality public code-breaking challenge hosted on their website to find new engineers. The challenge was designed to test creativity, lateral thinking and problem solving by asking candidates to assemble an electric Jaguar sports car. This challenge would have been completely impossible without VR and enabled the team to assess candidates’ soft skills before placing them in a work situation, improving the quality of candidates that were then considered for the role.

The issues with gamification

However, recruitment strategies like this are unlikely to bring any improvements to the skills shortage being felt from top to bottom across the digital sector. If recruitment professionals believe the issues are a lack of skills and experience, investing huge amounts of money and time into specialist projects doesn’t bring much enrichment to those candidates who need experience to develop their employability.

Additionally, while it might be beneficial for large organisations, the prohibitive cost means it would be almost impossible for small businesses. With almost half of all cybercrimes targeting small businesses security skills need to be developed everywhere to avoid those at the bottom suffering the harshest consequences.

How can we start to close the skills gap long-term?

Integration between businesses & education. The most in-demand high-level technical skill in the UK is penetration testing, with 53 per cent of organisations saying they aren’t confident in undertaking the test. In contrast, only one higher education course listed on the UCAS website includes the word ‘penetration testing’. New technology fields like cloud computing and IoT are only featured three times and twice respectively. Businesses and educational institutions will need to work cooperatively to tackle the most vulnerable areas of expertise and start finding solutions for the skills gap.

Emphasis on soft skills training

In the same vein, graduates should be prepared with the necessary soft skills to immediately enter the workforce. This could be achieved through more focus on soft skills training in higher education and further opportunities for work experience during study. Businesses could also work together with universities to run competitions or challenges which could even introduce gamification strategies to get students involved in cybersecurity before they have even graduated.

Prioritising training in entry-level jobs

Additionally, not all entrants into the cybersecurity industry come from higher education. The onus, therefore, is not entirely on universities to develop workers. Businesses who find that they are unable to secure candidates with the relevant professional and social qualifications should focus on in-work training. Whether that’s encouraging entry-level staff to gain professional certification for specialist fields or by implementing management training to develop staff members’ workplace skills.

Improving gender imbalance

Another glaring issue with the cyber security industry which could be having a direct effect on the skills gap is its lack of diversity. In the UK, only seventeen per cent of the UK’s tech force are women and cyber security staff make up a small percentage of the tech force as a whole. Making STEM fields more welcoming for women and encouraging women to explore career prospects in cyber security could offer an advantageous opportunity to reduce the skills gap over time.

The issue of the cyber security skills gap is highly complicated and a straightforward solution is unlikely to emerge any time soon. The introduction of gamification to source the most competitive candidates for roles is unlikely to be an effective strategy for any business to develop their security resources. On the other hand, using new technology to identify skilled candidates outside of the traditional interview process could be an effective way of recruiting workers who may have the skills but are less able to demonstrate them in conventional interviews.

With gamification often being cost-intensive and focused on spectacle, its use in recruitment is still uncommon and is mostly for the benefit of major organisations over small businesses. At a time of such profound need for some of the world’s most advanced industries, businesses of all sizes should be working to nurture talent as much as possible rather than making employment even more competitive.

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