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The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has reported a record number of sign-ups to its CyberFirst cyber security skills training programme, which is running this year as an online-only event because of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, with more than 1,700 teenagers signing up – an increase of 35%.
The annual programme for 14 to 17-year-olds teaches students how to analyse common types of cyber attack, code cracking and cryptography, and how to defend devices and networks. Launched in 2016, the scheme is designed to help young people pursue careers in technology by introducing them to cyber security, as well as to address a lack of diversity in the sector.
The NCSC has previously run the CyberFirst summer school as a residential course, but said the response to moving online had been so encouraging that it will, in future, look to offer the courses through a mix of online and classroom learning. The courses are provided through education services provider QA, and the Smallpeice Trust, a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education charity.
Chris Ensor, NCSC deputy director for cyber growth, said: “Moving this year’s CyberFirst summer courses online has proven hugely popular, with a record number of boys and girls participating and developing their cyber skills from home – in a way that is fun, insightful and engaging.
“These courses offer a golden opportunity for young people to explore their interests in cyber security and, hopefully, they will be inspired to pursue this further and become a part of the next generation of cyber talent.”
The programme offers three levels – Cyber Defenders for 14 to 15-year-olds, Futures for 15 to 16-year-olds and Advanced for 16 to 17-year-olds – all aimed at developing digital and problem-solving skills, and giving participants a grounding in the cyber threat landscape.
QA chairman Charlie Mayfield said: “These initiatives from NCSC and DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] are set to deliver a great summer of learning for young people across the UK. Digital skills are the single largest area of skills shortage in the UK and the CyberFirst programmes tackle this issue head-on – and have the added benefit of keeping young minds active at this difficult time.
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“The road to the UK’s economic recovery from this pandemic will be built on the skills we learn at this time. That is why it was critical that initiatives like CyberFirst were pivoted to virtual delivery, so they could go ahead as planned. We are proud to partner with the NCSC to deliver these fully virtual training programmes.”
Smallpeice Trust chief executive Kevin Stenson added: “With some schools still closed and the summer exam series cancelled, it is fantastic to see how many students have signed up for the CyberFirst programme to develop their passion for technology and learn key skills at home.
“The cyber industry offers many diverse and rewarding career paths, but often students do not have access to experiences where they can develop their knowledge and skills. Our aim is to give young people from all backgrounds the opportunity to realise their potential and develop their tech talent.”