Closing The Skills Gap Starts At School

Despite the UK’s cybersecurity sector being worth over $5 billion and widely regarded as the largest in Europe, it suffers from a real scarcity of talent. More than half of all businesses and charities are facing a basic technical cyber security skills gap, falling to 18% in the public sector. 

We hear so much about how the younger generation are inseparable from their devices and can master new technologies and apps far faster than their older peers. At the same time, we also experience the damage of data breaches, hacks to persons, companies, and national infrastructure.

In this current digital-first climate, why then are we not seeing more young people pursue careers in IT security? This is even more puzzling when we consider the rising cost of a university education and growing scrutiny of the value of degrees. 
To put it in perspective: the average annual salary for jobs in cyber security is £72,500, a good deal more than the average graduate salary of £23,000. It’s not only our young people who are potentially missing out, but the UK economy too.

A lack of specialised skills in the IT sector will negatively impact the UK’s ability to defend itself against increasingly sophisticated threats. This fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by the UK government. 

At the end of 2018, the then Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James, highlighted cyber security as ‘a top priority for the government, it is central not only to our national security but also fundamental to becoming the world’s best digital economy.’ 

Recognising the skills gap, the government launched an Initial Cyber Security Skills strategy, promising £2.5 million in funding to establish a UK Cyber Security Council to develop a skilled workforce for the future. 

This is a positive move, but it isn’t only the task of the government to address the skills shortage. In August of this year the Government appointed the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) as the lead organisation to design and deliver the new UK Cyber Security Council, so we wait to see what changes this will bring. 

Collective Responsibility
The responsibility for closing the skills gap and promoting cybersecurity as a rewarding, beneficial and highly-valued career choice does not fall to a single party. Instead, it must be the work of stakeholders from multiple areas: government and private investors, the cybersecurity industry, education, trade bodies, not-for-profit organisations, IT department heads and HR.
Importantly, these parties mustn’t wait for the problem to become even worse before they address it, or be too reliant on encryption software. It’s already pretty acute, and with the ramifications of Brexit still not fully understood, further brain-drain from the UK back to Europe is a real possibility. The time to act, therefore, is now. 

The rewards of cybersecurity must therefore be championed at an early age and integrated into the curriculum in much the same way as subjects like English, Maths and Drama are.

By 2021, there’ll be a predicted 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions worldwide. We naturally need to ensure that the proportion of empty roles in the UK is as small as possible. However, we also have a wider responsibility to ensure that the global cybersecurity industry is buoyant, diverse, and sustainable. 

Technology and the Internet are universal, and it’s crucial that cyber talent is similarly unrestricted by borders. Education on the importance of the sector should start at an early age (with public and private sector buy-in), and continue with ongoing investment in in-house and outsourced IT talent across all industries.

TechRadar

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