Cyber skills gap: Raising awareness of cyber security opportunities

2018-12-08  Cyber Security

We’re making progress in training the next generation of cyber security professionals, but for young people to take that training and learn the right skills in the first place they need to be aware of the opportunities available to them in the industry.

I was asked to attend a SANS Cyber Discovery event in London last week – the finale to a government-backed programme to teach 14-to-18 year-olds cyber security skills and give them a chance to meet employers offering work placements or graduate jobs.

This meant giving up half of my Saturday, but I was happy to go along. As a graduate of the SANS Cyber Retraining Academy, I was interested to see this new initiative and speak to some of the young people involved to hear their thoughts on the programme and the industry.

The day opened with a talk from cyber security expert James Lyne, who gave a live demo of how to find a vulnerability in a program using a fuzzing tool and exploit it to open a backdoor on a system. James delivered a similar session during the Cyber Academy, but it was still interesting to watch, and something I’d like to have a play with in future.

Next, there was a chance to mix with the students, hear about their interests, and explain what I do. After a while mixing and chatting, somebody asked me a question that caught me a bit off guard: “What do you think needs to be done to fill the cyber skills gap?”

It took me a little while to think about it, but I think awareness is one of the biggest obstacles. I was always fairly technical, but it wasn’t until I graduated from university and happened to land in a job as a cyber security journalist that my eyes were even opened to the industry.

If young people want to learn technical skills, the internet gives them a million more ways to do so than I have. I remember borrowing my local library’s single book on C many times as a child, but it was dated and difficult to follow without any foundational knowledge. These days resources like Codecademy can guide students along every step with interactive exercises.

I’ve also met some kids who can already do amazing things with computers, but if they have any ambitions in technical fields they usually want to be software developers – or more specifically video game designers and developers, in my experience at least.

These issues – young people either lacking advice on where to start learning technical skills or having those skills but lacking a direction in which to use them – stem back to one problem: awareness. Typically, students just don’t realise what’s available in cyber security.

Films and television may not portray hacking and cyber security very accurately (more on that in a future post), but along with an increasing number of newspaper headlines about cyber attacks at least they add some glamour to the industry’s image and increase exposure.

Along with initiatives like Cyber Discovery, which serve not only to teach young people cyber security skills but also to raise awareness of the cyber skills gap and opportunities in the sector, hopefully we’ll see more professionals entering the industry in the coming years.

Photo from Christina Morillo (Pexels)

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