Education and skills

To reskill unemployed and furloughed workers for a career in cyber, our sector needs a culture change

A 2017 survey in the UK found that more than half of us were planning to change career in the next five years. The reality is that our working life can be unpredictable – especially now that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Across the country people have been furloughed from their job, been made redundant or are concerned about their job security as entire industries face unprecedented challenges. This presents an opportunity to help these people transition into a new career while addressing the skills gap faced by a growing sector: cybersecurity. 

The £8.3bn UK cybersecurity sector has struggled to fill its skills gap and we now have a number of workers looking for an alternative career. It seems like a simple case of supply and demand, and the good news is that furloughed or unemployed workers can be reskilled for a career in cyber. The existing skills they’ve developed in their career to date can also be transferred to cyber.  

To do this we have to first address a huge misconception that the cyber sector is made up of technology geeks in hoodies who stare at screens 24/7. The reality is quite different, but just as problematic. The UK government has highlighted the lack of diversity within the sector. It falls well behind other digital sectors and has shown extreme inertia in encouraging things to change. For example, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) report on the Cyber security skills in the UK labour market 2020 states that “few firms have adapted their recruitment processes or carried out any specific activities to encourage applications from diverse groups” (DCMS, 2020). A snapshot shows that 15% are female, 16% are from an ethnic minority and 9% are neuro diverse. 

Effective cybersecurity is multidisciplinary, so cyber teams should reflect society. In reality, our cyber sector is much more limited. It’s mainly male, mainly white and prides itself on projecting an unapproachable image. If we want the sector to be more diverse then re-skilling could be a powerful lever, but first the sector has to lay the groundwork. It needs to be more open, transparent, welcoming and embrace multidisciplinary teamwork. 

We can also do more to raise awareness of what a career path in cyber could look like in all its forms. The cybersecurity sector is often surrounded in mystery, leaving people feeling that there is no way in for them. We need to remove the mystery, stop using jargon and welcome this diversity. The roles within cyber can include culture change, networking, cloud engineering, access control and everything in between. Widening the recruitment pool is exactly what we need. 

As of 2 August, there were 1.2 million people furloughed in the UK. These individuals from diverse roles with different backgrounds and experiences represent real life. Cyber needs to do the same. 

Reskilling unemployed or furloughed workers now could not just help organisations find the talent they need, but it could also lower overall unemployment, reduce government borrowing and help drive our country’s economic growth.

DCMS (2020)  Cyber security skills in the UK labour market 2020, published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cyber-security-skills-in-the-uk-labour-market-2020/cyber-security-skills-in-the-uk-labour-market-2020

 Accessed September 2020