Vertical Markets

Next generation of cyber talent is vital

by Mark Rowe

Cybersecurity should be top of the curriculum this school year, says Josh Lemon, author and certified instructor at the training body SANS Institute.

Cybersecurity is one of the most thrilling, impactful, and dynamic industries on the planet. But does the next generation know that? They should. The cybersecurity skills gap is ever-growing – and it’s allowing threat actors to find more and more opportunities to compromise organisations. Closing this gap is the industry’s greatest problem – and biggest focus.

A new generation of cyber talent would help hugely. However, as a relatively young industry, cybersecurity has a long way to go in establishing itself as a career option for students leaving high school.

Below are my top tips for starting this revolution, and securing enthusiastic, motivated, young cyber talent that’s ready to stop future hackers in their tracks.

The UK’s cybersecurity industry has experienced fast-rising levels of investment, with 1800 cybersecurity firms generating a record £10.1 billion in revenue in the last financial year alone. Yet despite the boundless growth and the UK’s emerging position as a major cyber leader, there’s mounting evidence that firms risk being outpaced on the global stage due to talent supply issues. A 2022 government survey on cyber security skills in the UK labour market revealed that approximately 697,000 – or 51 per cent – of UK businesses reported a basic cyber skills gap, with staff lacking the technical and incident response skills to manage cyber security effectively.

While the UK may be at the cutting edge of cyber growth and investment, the findings highlight a persistent skills gap and a startling lack of cyber confidence. The findings place a new emphasis on businesses to tackle the shortage and create new cyber-confident workforces through investment in training and further development opportunities. With many organisations undergoing digital transformation, it requires employees to adapt with digital skills and for cybersecurity experts to continuously re-skill to meet the rapid change in the industry landscape.

The digital transformation has emphasised the need for more cybersecurity experts. Students are leaving school with a foggy image of what a career in the cybersecurity sector can look like or a very narrow view that cybersecurity is only for “hackers”. That said, it starts with schools doing their part to inform students of career opportunities that could play a key role in attracting and retaining the future cyber workforce.

Passwords are only the tip of the iceberg

Whether it’s the home tablet or the school’s laptop, there is a need for cyber awareness in everyday life. Practising the basics of cybersecurity is something many people do without realising, like passwords and enabling multi-factor authentication on devices. Yet, there’s a need for schools to explore cybersecurity beyond that initial level that has the potential to spark a student’s interest in the industry.

To give students the opportunity to work within the cybersecurity sector, secondary school teachers and career advisors must be able to communicate cybersecurity career paths. However, sharing these opportunities comes down to teachers and career advisors being aware of the sector and the career streams it offers.

It is a common misconception for high school students that cybersecurity is only trying to break into computer networks. While this is one speciality within cybersecurity, there is a vast array of other areas that involve; project management, investigation, software and product development, advisory, policy development, risk assessment, and so many more.

Starting cyber conversations with students

Technology is continually advancing, which will only create more avenues for cybersecurity roles in the future. While it’s essential to inform students about the types of careers in cybersecurity, teachers and career advisors should be aware of the skills and qualities the sector needs beyond technical computer and software knowledge. Once this is achieved, it can shed light on the roles students can go onto.

Technical skills are critical in cybersecurity, yet they can be learned, fostered, and evolved throughout a student’s career. Schools need to tap into individual students’ strengths in hopes of encouraging them to pursue cyber positions.

Broadly, cybersecurity enlists leaders, communicators, researchers, critical thinking… the list goes on. Having the qualities needed to fulfil various roles in the industry can position a student remarkably when they first start in the industry. Yet, this comes down to their mentors in high school being able to communicate that a student’s inquisitive nature or presenting skills can be applied to various sectors.

Attackers won’t know what’s hit them

It’s an exciting time for students looking to break into the world of digital opportunities. Cybersecurity should be right up there as an accessible, enticing, and unlimited line of work for them to consider taking at university and beyond.

Making this possible starts with conversations and exercises that showcase the qualities students want to develop, like creative problem solving and ‘what if’ scenario planning, which real cybersecurity specialists use daily.

Start the enthusiasm for cybersecurity, and the motivation to keep learning, and schools could soon help to make the cybersecurity skills gap history.

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