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Ex-youth footballers kick-start cyber careers

New programme aims to find fresh careers for former youth footballers in cyber security

Cyber security training specialist Hack the Box and governance, risk and compliance (GRC) practice SureCloud are among those to have lent their support to a new programme designed to help train and reskill former youth football stars for careers in cyber security.

The occasional high-profile incident aside, the world of cyber security and the world of professional football may seem poles apart, but according to a 2021 investigation by Sky News, at any one time there are between 10,000 and 12,000 children in English football’s youth development system, and only 0.5% of them will ever make a living from playing professionally, and of those, a tiny 0.012% will go on to play a single minute in a Premier League match.

So, with English football cutting thousands of young people loose every year, and a massive talent shortage in the cyber security sector, sports consultancy Phoenix, Sport & Media Group (PSM), an upskilling specialist, spotted an opportunity to help train and develop security talent among former youth footballers, and has developed and launched a new programme called Cyber Stars.

PSM enlisted a number of firms to assist in developing Cyber Stars besides SureCloud and Hack The Box – which provided its HTB Academy service as the learning platform for the programme. Among them were BlueScreenIT, a Plymouth-based cyber careers developer, and certification specialist CompTIA.

The initiative was designed to go beyond traditional cyber training and was carefully customised to help the students take their first steps into the often bewildering world of cyber security, with a series of courses covering offensive and defensive tactics and threat intelligence.

Under the programme’s auspices, the inaugural cohort of footballers-turned-cyber pros graduated earlier in July in a ceremony hosted by Liverpool Football Club.

“At Hack The Box, we are committed to create a safer cyber world by making cyber security training accessible to everyone,” said Hack The Box founder and CEO Haris Pylarinos. “Everyone can join and start learning and practising cyber security, from theory to action.

“With that in mind, Hack The Box supported PSM Cyber Stars Programme, providing cyber security training to a selected group of athletes willing to explore a new line of work and, as such, offering a pathway for these individuals to a new career opportunity.”

SureCloud vice-president Ben Jepson added: “At SureCloud, helping the next generation of cyber security professionals is something that we feel very passionate about. The shortage of cyber skills in the UK can’t go on and it is on us as an industry to demonstrate how exciting and rewarding a career in the digital space can be.”

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PSM CEO Carly Barnes, a specialist sports lawyer who hails from a background in British motorsport, said: “We are incredibly proud to have successfully launched this course, and even more proud to see the very first students graduate at such a well-renowned venue.

“These new graduates are about to start on brand-new career paths in the IT industry and we look forward to seeing how they progress as the months and years move on.”

Among the first graduates are Josh Sumner, a former Liverpool FC Academy player, and Ciaren Jones, who once captained Norwich City’s under-23 squad.

Sumner said he had been “devastated” to have had to leave Liverpool when he was 19 after a seven-year placement. “Football was all I knew,” he said. “But I’m now 28 years old and I can safely say that the Cyber Stars Programme has set me on a new and exciting career path in IT and cyber security.

“It was always something that I was interested in, but this has given me the opportunity to take the first real-life step into the sector.”

Jones, who is joining SureCloud as a consultant, said: “I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I have done, as all I have ever known is football. I definitely went out of my comfort zone but have discovered a new passion for cyber.

“The support from SureCloud along the way has been amazing. I’m now looking forward to working my way up the ladder, learning more about areas of hacking that excite me, and to earn further qualifications. And I’ll keep kicking a ball – part-time, of course.” 

Looking ahead, Barnes said she hoped to extend the Cyber Stars initiative to other sports, including athletics, cricket and rugby, and is also hoping to offer focused courses for women and former Paralympians.

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