With a cybersecurity talent shortage projected to hit 1.8 million unfilled roles by 2020, the industry must start attracting younger workers to fill jobs and protect businesses. However, the field faces a problem: Only 9% of millennials said they are interested in pursuing a cybersecurity career at some point in their lives, according to a Tuesday report from ProtectWise and Enterprise Strategy Group.

The lack of interest in cybersecurity does not stem from a lack of interest in tech, the report found: Of the 524 millennials and post-millennials surveyed, 48% had been part of a STEM program during their K-12 education. A majority of respondents said they are interested in computer-related careers, including video game development (33%), computer sciences/software development (21%), engineering (15%), scientific research (13%), and information technology (11%).

Instead, the issue seems to be a lack of awareness. Only 17% of respondents said someone in their family had ever worked in a cybersecurity field. Some 69% said they had never taken a class in school focused on cybersecurity, and 65% said that their school did not offer such a course.

SEE: Cybersecurity spotlight: The critical labor shortage (Tech Pro Research)

When asked why cybersecurity was not a career they were considering, the top reason named by millennials was “don’t know enough about this field/path” (37%), followed by “don’t believe I have the technical ability/knowledge/aptitude” (28%).

These findings echo those from a 2017 ISC(2) report, which found that only 7% of cybersecurity workers are under age 29, and just 11% are women.

“Over the next 10 years, we will have a large population of cyber professionals starting to retire,” Wesley Simpson, COO of ISC(2), told TechRepublic at the time. “We don’t have a good plan to backfill those large number of folks starting to leave the industry. We need to be able to educate and bring awareness to all facets of cybersecurity, and [send a message] that regardless of if you have a technical degree or not, it’s a great, diverse, lucrative career for folks to get into.”

Women represent the largest untapped pool of cybersecurity talent, and perhaps the most promising, the ProtectWise report found.

While men report being twice as likely to study engineering, computer science, and science and mathematics at college, women report that they play online video games in equal numbers to men, and adopt technology just as early, the survey found. More women than men indicated that they had tried virtual reality (VR) technology (52% vs. 42%), and that they are willing to spend more time using these technologies.

Women are also more likely than men to enroll in college straight out of high school. And despite the gap between men and women’s plans for studying computing and engineering, two computer-related fields held male and female interests nearly equally: Video game development, and cybersecurity. In fact, more female respondents (57%) than male respondents (40%) said they would find a career in cybersecurity exciting.

Companies should support afterschool cybersecurity clubs, or help develop and implement cybersecurity curriculum in local high schools, the report recommended. “There are a multitude of ways to help develop tomorrow’s security pro,” the report stated. “This effort can mean more people, more innovators – and from the review of these survey results – more women choosing cybersecurity as a viable and rewarding career.”

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:

  • 9% of millennials said that cybersecurity is a career they are interested in pursuing at some point in their lives. — ProtectWise, 2018
  • 57% of millennial women said they might find a career in cybersecurity exciting, compared to 40% of millennial men. — ProtectWise, 2018