Cybersecurity can have an impact on anyone. Whether it is governments, individuals or businesses, the disrupting effect of breaches can be devastating. The threat posed by cybercriminals has never been more severe, so there is a growing need for IT specialists to adapt and innovate to keep up with the pace of change. Businesses know they need to bolster network defences, and many are on the hunt for cybersecurity staff.
A large industry has developed to protect individuals and companies from the cyber-threat – but there is a major skills shortage. Data compiled by the Centre for Cyber Safety and Education shows that in the next five years, the global cybersecurity skills gap will hit 1.8 million, with an immediate need for 195,000 extra workers within the next year.
To meet this challenge, we need to have a highly trained and technically skilled IT workforce. Bringing in the best and brightest poses a challenge for businesses of all sizes. Network engineers and cybersecurity specialists are in increasing demand, but the talent pipeline is fragmented. The emphasis needs to be on developing talented people who have the knowledge, skills and behaviours to respond to the rapidly evolving threats posed by cybercriminals and hackers.
The question then becomes: how do you design a curriculum model that creates the kind of talent that industry needs? The emphasis needs to be on ensuring a combination of “real-world” practical challenges and meaningful interactions with industry professionals. Activate Learning recently co-created a project with industry professionals for IT students that serves as a useful model.
Engaging with industry professionals
Learners were set a challenge to design a secure mobile banking branch. The project was conducted in collaboration with IT and networking global leader Cisco. It gave learners an opportunity to engage with industry professionals while receiving detailed feedback on their work.
Learner engagement throughout the module was demonstrated through improvements in attendance and motivation – especially when Cisco’s chief technology officer came to address students. Additionally, learners were given the chance to develop their skills and critical-thinking abilities by confronting problems that skilled IT professionals are trying to solve in the “real world”. Students were required to present their solutions to a panel of curriculum staff and industry professionals. The module proved a success.
Ensuring this kind of industry engagement within training provision is vital – and demonstrates how FE colleges will play a big role in shaping the future IT workforce. With its unique focus on employability and employer partnerships, further education is well placed to shape a curriculum that adds value for both industry and learners.
Activate Learning has been working with the Collab Group of colleges to develop an introductory cybersecurity programme, aimed at attracting new talent into the IT workforce. Organisations will need to draw from a larger talent pool to fill the cybersecurity gap, and foundational level courses, specifically designed to diversify the workforce and attract new talent, will be essential.
Equally important as training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals is educating all college staff and learners about the risks that cybercriminals pose to their personal data. Along with other Collab Group colleges, we are working with the Home Office’s Cyber Aware campaign, which is based on the latest technical expertise from the National Cyber Security Centre, to share advice to enable them to stay secure online.
The challenges are great, but I am convinced that further education, working with partners across government and industry, will play a role in creating a highly skilled and adaptable IT workforce, which will be essential for our digital security for decades to come.
Alex Warner is director of faculty, technology, at Activate Learning