From education to employment

Unlocking cyber skills: This year’s essential back-to-school lesson plan

We can’t afford another year of schooling that fails to nurture the cyber-confident workforces of the future. Seven in ten large UK businesses were targeted by cyber attackers last year, yet almost half of cyber leaders lacked the confidence to instill a zero-trust approach!

The answer is pretty clear: education, education, education!

In today’s hyper-connected world, the mission to stay on the front foot of the threat actors’ ever-evolving bag of tricks is a number one priority. Business is booming for cyber attackers, becoming more sophisticated and pervading every walk of life. Getting ahead of a growing threat landscape means adopting the right threat detection mindset and the cyber confidence to take proactive steps to meet the cyber challenges of tomorrow.

Tackling cybersecurity matters head-on in the classroom has enormous potential to spark an interest and connect young learners to wide-ranging career opportunities in the diverse, interesting, and future-focused world of cyber defence.  Besides plotting future career paths, teaching simple yet powerful everyday cyber habits can help everyone take action and become part of the solution. Put simply, arming the next generation with knowledge and enthusiasm for cybersecurity lies at the heart of stopping threat actors from compromising organisations as quickly as they can today.

Why cyber has a place in the classroom

The UK’s cybersecurity industry has experienced fast-rising levels of investment, with 1,800 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 approximate 697,000 (51%) UK businesses reported a basic cyber skills gap with staff lacking the technical and incident response skills to effectively manage cyber security or a cyber breach.

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 figures place a new emphasis on business to tackle the shortage and create new cyber-confident workforces through investment in training and new opportunities for development. With many organisations undergoing digital transformation, it requires employees to adapt with digital skills and for cybersecurity experts to continuously reskill to meet the rapid changes in the industry landscape.

However, the need for cybersecurity experts isn’t the result of digital transformation. Instead, 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. 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 cyber workforce of the future.

Passwords are just the start

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.

How to approach cybersecurity 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.

Bridging that cyber skills gap starts here

Closing the talent gap in the cybersecurity industry requires the enthusiasm of the next generation of great cyber defenders, threat analysts, penetration testers and cyber-conscious business leaders. The earlier they gain this enthusiasm, the quicker they will flourish, breaking into the industry and making a difference in Britain’s cyber defences. Teachers, mentors, and inspirational figures from organisations will be critical to a cyber education that goes beyond passwords and unveils the true breadth of this exciting, critical industry.

By Josh Lemon, author and certified instructor at the SANS Institute

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