Encouraging the Next Generation into Cyber Careers

The pandemic has completely catalysed the world’s online revolution.

FE News article, 20th July 2022

Reliance on technology in our day to day lives is greater than ever – which means we are at greater risk of cybercrime than we’ve ever been before.

This new cyber-landscape in which we are all operating requires many new skills to keep our digital activity running smoothly and safely. But these skills don’t just materialise, they must be planned, supported and nurtured.

FE Colleges are experts at equipping people with skills across a range of industries and have been for many years. The sector has good links with employers and understands the fundamental link between skills and employment.

A photograph of Jason Turton

Playing catch up

However, education policy and curriculum content are often playing catch up with the changing needs of local labour markets. It takes time to create new qualifications and often even longer for employers, educators, parents and students to recognise them. This is particularly true for newer industries, like cyber-security and cloud technologies, which aren’t widely understood.

For example, while the majority of us have adopted online banking in some way, little thought is given to the technology sitting behind the front end app and how it is keeping our money and personal details safe from criminals. In April 2022 alone, over £700 million was lost to fraudsters, against an average of £200 million/month in previous years (ref. Action Fraud) and 60% of all estimated crimes last year were linked to fraud and computer misuse (ref. ONS).

At BDC, and through our East London Institute of Technology (IoT) we are committed to providing young people access into new industries, which offer huge career opportunities. To do this, we are developing relationships with many specialist digital employers from AWS to ‘Transport for London’ (TfL), all of whom need to secure a pipeline of skills to power their future business operations.

Opportunities must be open to everyone

Importantly, such opportunities must be open to everyone and not limited by socio-economic background, gender or race. Women are under-represented in the digital sector and this needs to change if we are to get anywhere near filling the number of skills gaps forecasted over the next 10-15 years.

An excellent example of how we are actively tackling this issue, is our involvement with the NCSC CyberFirst Girls Cyber Competition, which is supported by the CyberHub Trust and its sponsor AWS. The Cyber Competition introduces girls to potential careers in cyber and cloud technologies – engaging them with inspiring and interactive events. The competition is run across thirteen centres around the UK and the London regional finals were held in Shoreditch with students from 10 different schools.

We hosted a follow-up events in June, which was attended by 85 girls from some of the schools who attended the regional finals in February. The girls had a tour of our new East London Institute of Technology, which includes robotics facilities, a film/TV and virtual production studio and recording studios. Participants also got to see the new CyberHub Trust Security Operations Centre (SOC), with a presentation by the Cyber Security Analyst Trainer, as well as an engaging presentation on Cyber Bullying.

The girls also heard from an AWS representative, who spoke about the many Cloud & technology careers on offer, and they were then all invited to take part in an interactive ‘Escape Room’ exercise run by the London Metropolitan Police Cyber Choices Team, which was very popular.

Opening up a world of previously unknown opportunity

Facilitating access to professionals who work in such an exciting industry is absolutely crucial for these young people. It opens up a world of previously unknown opportunity, which ultimately supports social mobility.

We saw by the feedback that we received from this event just how inspired these young girls were. More opportunities like this need to be provided to students of all ages and backgrounds; informing them about career pathways and ensuring that they have the contacts and networks to achieve success.

While we can’t always influence the slow-moving nature of education policy, the FE sector has the ability to look ahead and identify where opportunities exist (and indeed will exist in the future). Colleges should take advantage of the many organisations, employers and charities within new and emerging industries who want to connect with young people and secure future skills. There are many of them and it’s a win-win all round – benefiting individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

By Jason Turton, Chief Operations Officer at Barking & Dagenham College