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Cyber security skills ad branded ‘crass’ by minister

Security skills campaign advert depicting a ballet dancer comes in for criticism as the arts sector struggles in the pandemic

An advertisement created for a joint cyber security training programme run by tech skills body QA and the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC’s) CyberFirst skills campaign has been branded “crass” by culture secretary Oliver Dowden following an online outcry.

The offending advert depicts a young ballet dancer and reads “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. She just doesn’t know it yet”.

The advert has attracted criticism for coming at a time when the UK’s cultural sector is facing an existential threat because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has left thousands of actors, artists, musicians and others working in the creative industries facing lost income, or under threat of redundancy.

Many commenters said they felt the ad was essentially telling people to give up on their dreams, and neglected the intense physical training needed to become a professional dancer – others used more colourful language.

Writing on Twitter, Dowden said: “This is not something from DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] and I agree it was crass. This was a partner campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cyber security. I want to save jobs in the arts, which is why we are investing £1.57bn.”

Dowden was referring to a package of funding first announced in July, designed to support museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues with emergency grants and loans.

The Rethink, Reskill, Reboot programme aims to equip people with the essential security skills needed to pursue a career in cyber, including investigating malware and cyber attacks, defending exploitable vulnerabilities, understanding open source intelligence, knowing the implications of social engineering, encryption as a means of data protection, and digital forensics tools.

Those who complete the programme receive an industry-recognised, NCSC-accredited certificate, a training voucher worth £500 to be used against a QA-developed, public schedule course – or three months’ Cloud Academy platform access – and opportunities to attend employer events and learn about more training and job opportunities in security. It is delivered entirely online and can be taken as an evening or weekend class.

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It is run alongside the NCSC’s CyberFirst programme, which is primarily designed to encourage young people aged 11-17 to consider careers in cyber security and conducts a wide range of activities.

These include bursaries to support university undergraduates, degree apprenticeships, the CyberFirst Girls scheme for girls and young women, cyber courses at universities, and the Cyber Discovery online extracurricular programme.

According to the NCSC, each activity is “designed to seek out people with potential, offering the support, skills, experience and exposure needed to be the future first line of defence in our CyberFirst world”.

The government is attempting to get people left out of work after the pandemic rendered many industries essentially unviable, to retrain. But its efforts have been met with derision after a beta tool operated by the Department for Education, which posed people a series of questions to guide them to a new career, returned either inappropriate recommendations – such as professional boxer – or recommended jobs in pandemic-stricken sectors such as the arts, hospitality and travel.

The NCSC and DCMS have both been contacted for comment.

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