Solving the cyber skills crisis by giving people a break
- Posted on September 12, 2022
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Avanade Cyber Security Lead, Alpesh Nakar, has been nominated as Best Security Mentor in the 2022 Australia Women in Security Awards for demonstrating proactive engagement and outreach to those who would normally be sidelined by traditional recruitment processes.
In early 2019, when Alpesh took over the role as Avanade’s Regional Security Talent Community Lead for Australia, his team had nine people. Thirty months later, the community is now more than 100-people strong and Avanade’s largest security team globally - distinguished by a high female representation and above-industry retention.
It would have been quite an achievement at the best of times. But what is extraordinary is that Alpesh helped to grow the community during a global pandemic – and in a market sorely lacking job-ready cybersecurity talent.
“Given the challenges we faced with skills shortage in the market, there was no point looking for analysts or consultants with five years' experience in cybersecurity. Instead, we started scouting for candidates looking for their first breakthrough in cybersecurity. The only ask was a commitment to succeed, the self-discipline to learn and stretch, a growth mindset and some proven qualities - not qualifications in areas like business analysis,” Alpesh explains.
Ignoring convention, the team at Avanade started searching LinkedIn for candidates who were looking to get into cybersecurity but had no relevant experience or faced other barriers to employment like extensive career breaks. Many were returning mums, mature-aged Australians, people from non-IT backgrounds, people looking for a career change from software development or testing, or non-Microsoft cloud practitioners.
“If the individuals were receptive, I took them on as a mentee. I advised them which certifications to pursue, shared links to free tutorials and kept them informed when job openings arose. If they applied for jobs at Avanade, I didn’t let on that these were my mentees. I was so proud when a large number were offered jobs here.”
Since then, Alpesh has developed a cybersecurity training pathway at Avanade for those with no cybersecurity background. Internally, the team call it the Ninja Academy! “We run serious bootcamps and get our candidates deployed on client projects so they can shadow team members and get enterprise work experience,” he says.
For returning mum, Sithara Abhilash, the training pathway has been a lifeline. “I’d studied Computer Science, but when I tried to get a job after an 11-year IT career gap having kids, they only wanted you if you had experience,” she explains. “Avanade was different. To prove I have what it takes, Alpesh challenged me to get a certification within a month. I wasn’t sure I could do it. IT has changed a lot and I’d lost my confidence. But Alpesh believed in me and that really motivated me. I completed the cert and got the job!”
“It’s exactly the kind of role I’ve always wanted. Alpesh is a good mentor. After I joined, he continued to check in on me – even though I now have my own Avanade career advisor who is helping me to grow further and achieve my goals.”
Alpesh is proud of the team. “We have 50 people who came on board with no certifications or experience – and are now succeeding in the cybersecurity world. Individuals whom others wouldn’t consider have rose to the occasion. Today, 99% of our team have Microsoft certifications! It’s been amazing to watch them learn, grow and succeed.”
One of them is Prabjot Kaur Momi, who lost her job due to COVID and was out of work for nearly two years. Having studied IT, but with no technical work experience, she was desperately trying to find a role where she could learn new skills that were in demand in the job market.
“I found Alpesh on LinkedIn and was astonished when he replied immediately and was willing to take a chance on me. He asked me to complete some Microsoft certifications, and after that, it was a pretty smooth process. I’ve done more courses since I started at Avanade and just started work on my first ever cybersecurity project. Even though Alpesh is very busy, he always finds time to help and check in on me.”
“Building my cybersecurity skills make me feel secure and confident. Avanade has a very different environment than I had in other jobs. Everyone is so helpful and approachable. I feel comfortable here – part of the family. ”
Alpesh says the experience of watching his non-traditional candidates succeed has been ‘mind-blowing’. He is looking forward to continuing his mentorship internally and externally and is expanding his search area beyond LinkedIn.