It’s undeniable that the rise of cybersecurity and mobile security threats have forced agencies to increase both security budget and headcount. This shift has significantly contributed to the growing technology skills gap across all levels of government, and without substantial changes the issue is projected to get worse. In fact, the Center for Cyber Safety and Education recently estimated a global shortage of 1.8 million cybersecurity professionals by 2022.

Simultaneously, a large portion of the federal IT workforce is nearing retirement age. Data from the Office of Personnel Management’s FedScope portal reveals the number of government IT specialists aged 60 and over is more than quadruple those under 30. Moreover, the age gap in tech roles is more than double that of the overall federal workforce.

This “graying” of government is one of the triggers in the surge of efforts to attract and retain the next generation of public sector servants in IT and cybersecurity. And, significant policy and cultural changes are needed so agencies can compete with the private sector when it comes to hiring and retaining top talent.

OPM recently released new cybersecurity workforce guidelines, which are designed to help government agencies identify roles of critical need. With this framework in place, agencies now have one year to identify their greatest employment needs, investigate root causes, and develop an action plan to mitigate staffing shortages. One can presume that given the expanding threat landscape, nearly every cybersecurity function is considered extremely important to an agency’s day-to-day operations.

While these OPM guidelines provide a roadmap of the skills needed to fill these important positions, the federal government still needs to address one of the main issues surrounding employment: mobile access.

Mobility has changed the way private and public sector agencies operate. Ultimately, as our society becomes more reliant on mobile devices, mobility will become the foundation on which the business of government is built — beginning with the establishment of a technologically savvy staff.

To build this workforce, the federal government needs to draw employees from the digital native generations. A 2016 survey found 93 percent of millennials value technology when choosing an employer — specifically, access to mobile technology. Yet, current mobile device protocol among many agencies is to ban personal devices for work purposes, but these policies are often ineffective and result in even riskier security behavior.

A secure, mobile path forward

In order to enable a mobile government workforce, solutions to secure mobile endpoints and access points must be implemented. Luckily, current mobile endpoint security solutions will allow federal agencies to create a mobile-friendly work environment securely. Agencies can protect all devices, including personal and government-owned, from the threats that lie in applications, on the network or in the device.

Before allowing access to government email on their devices, agencies should require mobile threat defense tools. The right mobile threat defense solutions enable agencies to protect employee- and government-owned devices from mobile attacks based on the app, network, OS and mobile phishing. Also, by establishing true security requirements to access any government data, the risk associated with employees using personal devices for government business is significantly reduced.

The federal government has already taken steps toward establishing comprehensive mobile security across agencies. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate began a new research and development program to create a mobile endpoint security solution that will allow agencies to achieve their missions without banning mobile devices.

Additionally, the recent passing of the Modernizing Government Technology Act under the National Defense Authorization Act is yet another sign of the government’s commitment to embracing the current and future IT needs of the nation.

We know that mobile’s influence is only expected to grow, and until federal agencies empower a digital workforce, they will continue to face hardships in attracting the talent they so critically need.

Bob Stevens is vice president of public sector at Lookout Mobile Security.