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Closing the digital skills gap by inspiring the next generation of cyber leaders

Closing the digital skills gap by inspiring the next generation of cyber leaders
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The pandemic has catalyzed our transition to a purely digital era. With working from home becoming the new normal and e-commerce trends surging rapidly, it has never been more important for individuals and businesses to have impenetrable cybersecurity infrastructure. This presents the UK with a massive opportunity to provide people with good highly paid jobs, but only if we can engage , attract and retain the best talent.

About the author

Dr Vahid Heydari Fami Tafreshi is a senior lecturer in Cybersecurity and Networks at Staffordshire University London.

With 88% of UK companies suffering from a data breach in the past 12 months, and small businesses the most vulnerable to attacks, there is a need for better and more accessible cybersecurity solutions. Currently, it will be a struggle to meet the demand due to a lack of trained talent – we simply do not have enough cybersecurity professionals to keep up with the high need for protection, and to tackle this, we need to spark an interest in young people to consider future careers in cyber. With unemployment rising to 5%, it is important we raise awareness of cyber as a future career choice with plenty of future potential. It is equally as important to build Cybersecurity curriculum around employability.

There is also a clear digital skills gap within the workforce, and the best way to resolve this is by providing digital education to inspire the next generation of cyber leaders. Currently, only 10% of IT professionals have the cybersecurity skills the UK’s tech sector needs to thrive.

University and industry collaboration

Universities must play a role in closing the digital divide, and this is a priority for us at Staffordshire University. We are the first university in the UK to provide a undergraduate Cyber Security degree offering training in areas from cybersecurity to forensic computing. We also work closely with industry experts to ensure we are providing practical courses that give students the skills they need to enter the job market. Our Cyber Security curriculum therefore is knitted with different professional and technical certifications from the industry, including Cisco, Juniper, AWS, XRY and EnCase to name just a few examples.

It is also integral that individuals get the chance to learn in real-life settings. By creating the opportunity to participate in innovative partnerships with real-world businesses, degree courses in Cyber Security can provide individuals with a taste of a career on the frontlines of cyber protection.

For example, our London Campus operates from the same space as the London Office for Rapid Cybersecurity Advancement (LORCA), a government-backed program that aims to act as a launch-pad for cyber-companies through innovation and a commercialization consultancy. By allowing our students to learn in this environment, they’re inspired to embark on a career in cyber and are able to build the connections to thrive in the sector.

Variety of career options

There needs to be an effort to spotlight the variety of potential career options that will be available to students. Not all jobs are technical as people believe and there is a variety of different roles within the sector based on an individual’s skills set. From risk-based work, to policy engagement, to understanding the psychology behind a specific attack.

For this, our Cyber Security Industry Advisory Board at Staffordshire University London includes senior members from relevant businesses which are varied in nature to consider different aspects of Cyber Security landscape and also to ensure a complete coverage from technical side all the way to human-factor elements involved in overall security gesture of digital systems.

As well as this, moving forward we need to work to ensure the pipeline of talent entering the sector is as diverse as possible by offering support to people in education from a variety of backgrounds. Enhancing diversity within the UK cyber security sector is not only the right thing to do but it’s is vital to widening the talent pipeline and closing the UK’s cyber skills gap over the next few years.

Diversity

Making studying and working in cybersecurity more accessible by increasing inclusivity will be key in ensuring we have enough professionals in the field moving forwards. This is important with only 1 in 4 working in the industry female, highlighting tech’s reputation of being an extremely male-dominated industry.

Universities can play a role in changing perceptions by providing a setting where female students can flourish. Through a more hands-on learning experience, we can ensure that young people from a diverse range of backgrounds can acquire the skills necessary to enter the field of cybersecurity.

We need to change the status quo and remind women that jobs in cybersecurity are not just for men. To change this, industry-wide mentoring and coaching for women embarking on careers in the sector is required to change this stereotype. This will not only create a more vibrant community of cybersecurity specialists but fulfil the rapidly expanding need for cyber-attack protection. At Staffordshire University London, we currently have a female representative for BSc Cyber Security Programme which is expected to better motivate the target audience in the program briefing events such as Open Days.

Our transformation into the digital era has evolved at an alarming rate, and it is clear that the development of a robust cybersecurity workforce has not caught up with the rapidly expanding technologies used by individuals and businesses. As we press the reset button following Covid-19, we need to focus on education in cybersecurity, to not only help close our stark digital skills divide but also ensure we are able to continue to protect people from the dangers cyber criminals pose.

Dr Vahid Heydari Fami Tafreshi

Dr Vahid Heydari Fami Tafreshi is a senior lecturer in Cybersecurity and Networks at Staffordshire University London.