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Stem vital to UK’s future cybersecurity

The education system should not be expected to 'anticipate the range of specialist skills' needed in 20 years time

Developing children’s interest in STEM subjects and increasing apprenticeships is vital for addressing the UK’s “alarming” cybersecurity skills gap

The education system should not be expected to 'anticipate the range of specialist skills' needed in 20 years time

Developing children’s interest in Stem subjects and increasing apprenticeships is vital for addressing the UK’s “alarming” cybersecurity skills gap, a major new report has said.

The Cyber Security Skills and the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure report from Parliament’s Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy said the gap between the demand and the supply of skilled workers for the critical national infrastructure sector is a “cause for alarm” and the government “no real sense of the scale of the problem or how to address it effectively”.

The report stated: “A key challenge for education policy is the considerable time lag between a pupil joining primary school and ultimately entering the workforce, and the extraordinary pace of technological evolution during the same period.

“A pupil who chooses to pursue higher education will spend at least seventeen years in formal education. Consequently, the education system cannot—and should not—be expected to anticipate and deliver the range of specialist skills and knowledge required nearly two decades later.”

Introduction of T levels

MPs and Lords on the committee noted, however, that with its industrial strategy the government has embarked upon reforms to the national curriculum at primary and secondary schools, as well as an overhaul of England’s technical education system, which was a step in the right.

The report author’s added: “Most notably, in further education, these include the introduction from 2020 of T levels as an equivalent qualification to A Levels, as well as new, specialist educational institutions such as the National College for Digital Skills and the Institute of Coding.”

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, who was responsible for introducing the National Cyber Security Strategy, told the committee that apprenticeships were a way of making cybersecurity a more accessible subject.

He said the promotion of apprenticeships by GCHQ through its National Cyber Security Centre through its CyberFirst programme was an example of the government’s commitment to this.

'Matter of national security'

Chair of the joint committee, former Labour cabinet minister Margaret Beckett, said addressing the concerns was a pressing matter of national security.

"We’re not just talking about the acute scarcity of technical experts which was reported to us; but also the much larger number of posts which require moderately specialist skills. We found little to reassure us that government has fully grasped the problem and is planning appropriately."

She added: "We are calling on the government to work closely with industry and education to consider short-term demand as well as long-term planning."

Recommendations for the education system:

  • Capturing the interest of children and developing their skills at an early age.
  • Developing foundational skills in areas such as engineering, technology, software or management during formal education.
  • Ensuring close industry involvement at all stages of formal education, not just at higher education.
  • Providing opportunities beyond the formal education system – such as online learning, and sandwich and conversion courses – to enable lifelong learning and career conversion later in life.
  • Learning from other countries’ models.

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