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Tackling the Cyber Skills gap

This month, Head of Cyber Ciara highlights the options available to the sector of helping reduce the skills gap and supporting the cyber workforce in Scotland.

We hear about the cyber skills challenge on a regular basis, and much work is being done in Scotland, the UK and globally to help address this through a number of different avenues. The aim is to help increase the volume and diversity of those trained and qualified in cyber security, who can then help to address the increasing demand for those skills. It has never been more important than now to grow this talent pool – according to a report by ISC2 the global cyber security workforce skills gap has now exceeded 4 million, with a recent survey by DCMS suggesting that 48% of businesses in the UK are missing some basic technical skills and around 30% missing advanced skills.

Considering the challenges faced, I thought it would be good to touch on a few pieces of work that are happening in Scotland that are aimed at helping individuals move into cyber security, thereby helping the cyber sector through creating sufficient volume and quality of talent to meet their needs.

Much of the work is being led by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and supported by the Scottish Government Cyber Resilience Unit. Some examples which are happening or have happened in the last year are:

Retraining programmes

These are aimed at individuals in receipt of Universal Credit, or low-income employed and facing two or more employment barriers, which have been funded through the Digital Start Fund (DSF), an SDS Initiative. There have been a number of these projects delivered from various sources in Software Development, Data Science and Cyber Security. ScotlandIS have delivered several of these projects, with the most recent offering aimed at re-training long-term unemployed individuals who met the necessary DSF criteria who also had a previous STEM qualification or background of suitable work experience. The course, which was delivered by academic partners The University of Highlands and Islands, ran remotely for 12 weeks and successful completions resulted in one or two modules at Level 9 in Cyber Security.  As part of the programme, interviews were secured for almost all of those individuals that completed the course.

Retrain programme for veterans

In 2020, a pilot programme funded by Scottish Government and delivered by Skills Development Scotland commenced to retrain Military Veterans to address the significant skills gap In the nation’s Cyber Security Workforce, and to support the 220,000 working-age veterans who are currently unemployed In the UK. 

Delivered In partnership with Salute My Jobs, Abertay University and Veterans Scotland, with support from SBRC, it saw over 30 participants take part In the programme over 12 weeks at Abertay University and gain necessary Penetration Testing/Ethical Hacking skills and training that would allow them to seek employment within the sector.  Due to delays from COVID-19, the students completed the programme in early 2021 and a number of veterans have now either secured relevant work In the Industry through the Programme’s Employer Partners or are currently seeking employment or further training. 

Neurodiversity programme

Another programme which was recently driven by SDS was focussed on supporting individuals with neurodiverse conditions into cyber security careers. The idea being to provide a training experience that was tailored for and accommodated to their needs. Five delivery institutions were involved to support this programme: Napier University, West Lothian College, Inverness College, Perth Autism Support/Perth College and Fife College. In total, there was engagement with 44 neurodivergent learners. The course length varied between the institutions from around one month to 12 weeks (with timetables impacted by COVID-19). A range of qualifications/certificates were covered such as CISCO certifications, SQA Units, participation certificates and progression for some learners to national qualifications. The institutions involved were supported to help deliver this programme with the individuals’ needs central to the framework of delivery.

Having had the privilege of hearing a review on how this programme went, the great feedback and experience of the students involved, as well as the longer-term benefits to the institutions involved across Scotland in terms of supporting students with neurodiverse conditions, it prompted me to focus on skills in this month’s blog! The experience provided for students was excellent, and tailored to accommodate the students, which provided a welcoming and supportive experience for those involved.

e-Placement Scotland

This programme is a joint venture employability partnership between ScotlandIS and Edinburgh Napier University, matching students to industry placement opportunities. The programme is employer-led and completely flexible to the business; placements can be from 3 to 12 months, both full and part-time. It is a completely free service to advertise a role and be matched to a candidate, but industry is expected to pay the student a salary of at least National Living Wage or above.  The employer feedback has been that the students are extremely capable, talented, highly skilled and excellent value for money.

And there are many more wonderful programmes happening throughout Scotland and the UK (such as the NCSC CyberFirst programme) to address the skills gap, to open minds in regard to choosing cyber security as a career and to help those interested to transition into that sector.

There is of course a call to action for employers to support all the programmes listed above, to ensure the individuals get an opportunity for interviews which hopefully leads to them securing their first position in cyber security. On the back of the programme for long-term unemployed, I reached out to a number of cyber security companies in Scotland to see if there would be interest in offering interviews, and where companies were actively looking for new staff they were very keen to help. This is great to see, as we do need to ensure that companies are sourcing new talent from diverse sources across college and university graduates, experienced individuals already working in the sector but also re-trainees who are hoping to move into the sector mid-career or perhaps starting a professional career later in life (long -term unemployed would also include females returning to the workforce after a long absence due to child rearing).

Equally we need employers to support individuals with neuro-diverse conditions to find jobs and start their careers – watch this space for opportunities to learn more about what small adaptations you might reasonably make, and how to smooth the recruitment process and give on-the-job support to people with particular needs. We also need support for placements, interns and graduates as we continually need to support new entrants to the cyber security sector in order to continue to widen the pool of talent here in Scotland and the UK.

So how can you help? Keep an eye out for industry requests or asks whether through the cyber cluster newsletter or posts from SDS or other organisations leading the charge on this. There are different types of support needed whether it be through providing mentors, helping to guide new cyber qualifications, offering interviews if your business is recruiting, considering interns and many other ways that will benefit your business in the long run, by supporting the skills and learning agenda and helping to encourage and support the next generation of cyber talent.

Through supporting these initiatives, we are ensuring that the cyber security industry is an accessible and inclusive sector which anyone – regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or disability – can feel is open to them to consider as their next career move. Working together, we can ensure we have sufficient skills in both volume and quality to support Scotland’s businesses, and ensure the increase in digital services is underpinned through good cyber security practice.

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