Putting digital skills at the heart of education

The word ‘cyber’ has become increasingly significant over the past few years, particularly as the pandemic forced so much more of our lives online in a very short space of time.

FE News article, 13th May 2022

Businesses have had to respond to this changing landscape in order to survive, but educators and indeed policy makers have not been quite so quick of the mark. It is not quick and easy to change a curriculum or to create new qualifications – but the fact is that employers in the cyber space arena are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit the many people they need to support their rapidly growing businesses.

A photograph of Julia von klonowski

The irony is that most young people know their way round phones and other everyday technology very effectively. They have grown up with using this and it’s always been very much of their lives. But developing genuine digital skills, the ones needed for getting businesses up and running, developing software and protecting data is what’s really needed.

The recently released National Cyber Strategy sets out some very clear requirements to strengthen the Cyber Eco-system. True partnership working between industry, educators and government is fundamental to securing the sector’s future and ensuring that as a country, we are safeguarding the technical knowledge required to keep ourselves at the forefront of an increasingly cyber-focused world.

Employers must be part of the solution and AWS is an excellent example of this. For the past six years, they have been running an annual project for students at several FE colleges – setting a real life challenge, which requires the young people to create a digital solution to a problem. The students work in groups over an twelve -week period, getting exposure to the business world with support from many different experts. At the end of the project, the students present their ideas to a panel of judges, with awards and feedback given out.

Over the years, this project has resulted in individual, talented students being offered apprenticeships and work experience with AWS and the other employers involved. Crucially these are students who wouldn’t usually get an opportunity to be exposed to this environment and may well not fit into the usual ‘boxes’. Many come from disadvantaged backgrounds and families on low incomes – yet many also have huge amounts of dedication and talent, and just need to be given the chance.

To fill skills gaps, these are exactly the people we need to support and we must provide them with access to opportunities. This isn’t just about young people – it’s about giving people of all ages the chance to upskill and re-skill via training courses, boot camps and mentoring.

The CyberHub Trust is a charity committed to social mobility, recognising the importance of career skills and access to opportunities.

From primary school children through to adults, everyone needs to be aware of the career pathways that exist in brand new industries and supported to get onto these routes.

Every CyberHub is very much part of the local community, available not only to the students but to residents of all ages with training courses and experience days. This engagement is making cyber careers both more appealing and more accessible to people who would never have considered it as a potential employment opportunity. A win-win for the prospective employee, the employer and the wider economy.

Our focus at The CyberHub Trust is on bringing groups together and facilitating relationships; we can introduce employers to the FE Colleges who have access to the skills pipeline they need. This is exactly what AWS is doing and it’s helping them secure highly talented recruits, who have had exposure to the workplace and a chance to develop the crucial employability skills that makes for a great employee.

Going forward, as more CyberHubs open at FE colleges around the country (with BMet being the most recent addition to the network), we are calling on employers and colleges to recognise the importance of being part of the solution.

Our world is moving so fast and with this comes an array of exciting opportunities which we need to ensure are open to everyone, regardless of background or demographic.

By Julia Von Klonowski, Director of Digital Skills Consulting and Chair of Trustees for The CyberHub Trust