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Parents don’t know enough about cyber careers

Research by the SANS Institute finds that while parents are aware of cyber security, they don’t know enough to encourage their children into cyber roles

Parents don’t know enough about careers in cyber security to encourage their children to pursue roles in the sector, according to research.

The SANS Institute, a cyber security training provider, has found that 72% of parents have never considered cyber security as a future career for their children, which is contributing to the growing cyber skills gap.

James Lyne, CTO at the SANS Institute, said the industry should do more to promote itself to ensure children and their parents are more aware of the types of role available in cyber security, as well as the benefit these roles can have for society and those who fill them.

“The only people who can really spread that message are those working in the industry already,” said Lyne. “It’s another way to help close the skills gap we are currently suffering.”

Parents and teachers can have a huge impact on the subjects that children choose to study, and consequently the careers they end up in.

A lack of knowledge by parents about cyber security careers is likely to affect children’s understanding and perception of these roles, with the survey showing 46% of parents unable to answer their children’s questions on the subject, and 63% unaware how to get a job in the sector.

Almost 30% of parents named a career in IT as their top choice for their oldest child, but there is a lack of awareness about specific tech roles, such as those in cyber security, with almost 70% of parents not sure whether it is a subject that children learn about in school. Previous studies have found that parents overlook technology as a possible career for their children, especially if they are girls, preferring them to aim for more traditional jobs, such as doctors or lawyers.

The computing curriculum was introduced in the UK in 2014 to try to shift towards teaching young people concepts such as computational learning from an early age. Almost 90% of parents taking part in the survey said they would like their children to learn about cyber security as part of the curriculum, as well as through activities outside school.

But changes to the curriculum, shifting away from IT as a subject and towards a more technical focus, has put some groups off choosing these subjects to study into higher and further education. Many girls then go on to regret not studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects for longer once they realise how useful these can be in later life.

Computer science teacher Nazleen Rao, head of IT at London-based school Skinners’ Academy, said she has “struggled” to get students to take her classes.

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Skinners’ Academy contributes to the Cyber Discovery programme, a government-backed scheme that encourages children aged between 14 and 18 to learn about cyber security through game-based activities, eventually finding out those who may have the talent to become cyber professionals.

Rao said it would be helpful if parents knew more about cyber security as a topic, saying: “Parents still have a strong influence over their children’s learning choices, but they don’t always know what doors computer science can open up for them.”

She added that although most parents have heard of cyber security, according to the SANS Institute, they are still unaware of the industry as a whole, what jobs are available and what implications cyber security has for day-to-day life.

“Extra-curricular programmes such as Cyber Discovery have given a new and exciting teaching element to my lessons for students who are interested, but it is important that students also receive encouragement at home to pursue this avenue,” said Rao.

There have been many calls for collaboration between industry, schools and government to keep children, teachers and parents more informed about, and on top of, the skills needed for a digital future.

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