If you’ve ever spent time in a desert, it may seem inconceivable to you that creatures actually can live there. The fact that animals not only survive, but also thrive in those conditions seems counterintuitive. In fact, a number of animals do so — in many cases, they are aided by an array of specialized adaptations that allow them to leverage the environment to their advantage.

For example, the thorny dragon lizard (Moloch horridus) literally absorbs water through its skin, and the fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) has oversized ears that it uses as natural “radiators” to modulate its internal temperature in the heat. Because of these adaptations, these animals have an advantage. Specifically, they can exist in harsh conditions, and thereby inhabit an area (making the most of the resources in that area) without competition. By adapting to the conditions, they are successful where others can’t be.

There is a lesson here for security professionals. Specifically, data suggests that we’re in the middle of a “security skills gap” — very much like a “desert of skills.” For example, 37 percent of respondents to ISACA’s State of Cybersecurity 2017 survey said that only one in four job candidates had the necessary skills to be effective, while more than 25 percent said it took six months or longer to fill positions. The implication is that companies are struggling to find the right personnel. Positions are staying open longer, the few candidates there are lack critical skills and qualifications, and overall it is a challenge to align personnel with areas of need.

Organizations then have a choice: They either adapt — consciously and systematically building in the adaptations that help them to be successful in this environment — or struggle along with the status quo. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that organizations can employ to help adapt to these conditions. These aren’t exactly rocket science, but using them does require some planning — and more important a shift in mentality.

Protect the Skills You Have

In a literal desert, water is almost always the limiting resource. There, adaptations help animals retain, absorb and otherwise make the most efficient use of what little water is available. This is analogous to the staff we already have in the “skills desert.” For us, personnel and the skills they embody are the limiting resources. Desirable adaptations protect those resources — that is, they help us make the most efficient use of them.

First and foremost, maximizing our recruitment efforts — and minimizing attrition — are paramount. One opportunity to accomplish this at little additional direct cost is to embrace varied work expectations and to be flexible about how people do their jobs. This can mean strategically leveraging remote staff, of course, but also can make us more efficient in the process. For example, younger professionals often expect technical agility, mobility and flexibility in how they work: They might desire the ability to work from their mobile device or otherwise be more agile.

The degree that we can support them in this has a two-fold impact: It makes recruitment easier, and it helps retain those already on board….