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The government says there has been a huge response to an apprenticeship scheme aimed at helping to defend the UK’s national critical infrastructure.
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More than 1,200 people applied for 23 cyber security apprenticeships in a pilot scheme, the government said in an announcement that coincides with the end of National Apprenticeship Week 2017.
Successful recruits will be placed in jobs in energy, water and transport companies to help bolster cyber defences for critical national infrastructure.
Protecting the UK’s infrastructure from hostile cyber activity by strengthening cyber security and resilience is a major operational priority, the government said.
The government is keen to hear from employers in the energy, civil nuclear, water, transport, telecoms, finance and broadcast media sectors to support future rounds of apprenticeships.
The apprenticeship programme is led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and is part of the government’s National Cyber Security Programme.
The scheme is also aimed at helping to develop tomorrow’s cyber security professionals and tackle the risk of a continued skills shortage in the profession.
Thirteen firms, including Northern Powergrid, Network Rail and South East Water, are taking part in the pilot, which is expected to contribute to the goal of delivering up to 1,000 cyber apprenticeships by 2021.
Apprentices will receive about 60 days of specialist classroom and lab training alongside their on-the-job education, and will work with existing cyber security professionals.
This approach is designed to help recruits aged 16 and over to develop skills to become cyber security professionals in less than two years.
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Digital and culture minister Matt Hancock said the scheme would take candidates with the right aptitude and thirst for new technology and place them in essential industries with tough on-the-job training.
“This is an important part of our National Cyber Security Programme and recent Digital Strategy to prepare Britain for the challenges it faces now and in the future,” he said.
“It is fantastic to see such a huge response to this scheme and I am sure all the apprentices will help make these workplaces more productive, bring in fresh ideas and contribute from day one.”
Training will include a three-day capture-the-flag cyber security workshop as well as topics including ethical hacking, network defence, malware analysis, cryptography, encryption and cyber security operations.
The training will be delivered by an external provider at sites across the country and apprentices will complete the new cyber security technologist higher apprenticeship standard that was developed by government in collaboration with industry.
Recent figures from the Tech Partnership show there are already 58,000 cyber security specialists in a growing sector worth £22bn a year to the UK economy.
Global shortage worsens
However, the global shortage of cyber security professional continues to worsen, with the latest figures suggesting 1.8 million information security-related roles will remain unfilled worldwide by 2022
The shortfall is predicted in the Global Information Security Workforce Study (GISWS), published by the Centre for Cyber Safety and Education, a charitable trust of information security certification body (ISC)2.
The study is based on a survey of 19,000 cyber security professionals around the world, including 1,000 from the UK.
Of the UK respondents, 66% said their companies did not have enough information security personnel on their books to meet their needs.
Adrian Davis, managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa for (ISC)2, said the demand for the UK government’s critical infrastructure apprenticeships clearly showed that young people were looking to cyber security as a viable and interesting career option.
“Unfortunately, the entry-level job market in our field is practically non-existent,” he said. “Business today is fuelling a paradox of a growing and significant gap in skilled people available and an over-reliance on experience in our recruitment practices.”
According to Davis, just over 93 % of hiring managers from the UK that took part in the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study confirmed that they demand experience in their recruits.
“As a result, business is relying on an ageing workforce and overlooking an opportunity to prepare for the digitally enabled future that is already driving economic growth,” he said. “It is incumbent on government and industry to repair the job market at this level so that we can nurture and develop this interest.”