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SQA courses create cyber savvy workforce ready to tackle online threats

As schools and colleges embrace SQA’s portfolio of Cyber Security courses, employers can look to address the sector’s skills challenge. Since their launch in 2017, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) National Progression Awards (NPA) in Cyber Security have introduced school age pupils to a discipline that underpins how individuals, businesses, and society as a whole communicates.

Over the past two years, SQA has rolled out its college-level Higher National Certificate (HNC), and now the Higher National Diploma (HND) in Cyber Security. These new awards will open routes into employment within the cyber security sector that were traditionally only available to those who had completed a degree in computing. Alistair Wylie, Head of Qualifications – Technology, Engineering, and Construction at SQA, said it is easy to see why the whole portfolio has struck a chord with schools, and colleges. He said: “They are keen to give young people the best chance to develop and hone valuable digital skills, in a sector that will only grow in importance.”

Wylie said: “The IT skills gap is widely known about, but it is perhaps most pressing in cyber security. By collaborating with academics and industry specialists, including Glasgow Clyde College and the University of Glasgow, SQA has developed courses which will appeal to candidates, but will also equip them with the skills so needed by employers.”

Wylie added: “The HNC and HND are proven routes into employment. By offering Cyber Security qualifications at these levels, we are widening access into the sector. These vocational qualifications give candidates the opportunity to develop valuable practical skills, backed up with the theory, knowledge and wider skills.” The offering seems to be having an impact. Entries for the HNC in Cyber Security are up 50% on 2018-19 figures, while there are over 80 students across the country studying for the HND colleges among them Glasgow Clyde College, and City of Glasgow College.

Joe Harkins, a lecturer at West College Scotland who led the development of the new HND course, said: “The qualification has been designed to equip students with not only the technical skills required for a job in computing but also the general skills that make them work ready. Topics such as ‘Professionalism and Ethics in Cyber Security’, and ‘Working in Cyber Security’ introduce students to the wide range of jobs in computing and the unique challenges that they provide.” Harkins added: “The course also describes what it is like to work in industry, and what desirable attributes are needed in those roles, such as working under pressure, managing projects, communicating with others, and monitoring and analysing operations. These, along with the ‘traditional’ skills in computing such as programming, networking, and technical support and a common focus on security throughout, allow students to enter industry with the qualities sought by employers.” To extend the portfolio even further, and give more opportunities to enter the sector, SQA is also developing a series of Professional Development Awards (PDAs) in Cyber Security at SCQF levels 7, 8, and 9.

The PDAs, which will be available later this year, have been designed for professionals working in the sector to help them develop their skillset, or make the transition into a new career. Alistair Wylie said: “Once the new PDAs are available, we’ll have opened up routes into employment within the cyber security sector that were only available to university graduates. “At every stage of the development process for every qualification across the portfolio, we worked with the leading voices of the industry in Scotland. Each qualification, from the National Progression Awards in schools, right through to the Professional Development Awards delivered by employers and training providers, have been built to make sure the skills, knowledge, and experiences candidates acquire are credible, relevant, and valuable.” “We are meeting our responsibilities to provide schools, colleges, employers and training providers – and thereby candidates at all levels – with opportunities to succeed within this exciting and growing sector.”

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