Nigel Harrison, Co-founder & Director- Cyber Security Challenge UK
A decade ago, the UK Government formed the Office of Cyber Security (OCS) within the Cabinet Office as one of the key recommendations of the 2009 UK Cyber Security Strategy presented to Parliament by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. In the context of the time, it was a visionary report which laid the groundwork for eight workstreams to address the nation’s top-level cyber challenges in a collaborative manner – linking Government departments, the wider public sector, the private sector, academia and international partners. Workstream 4 focused on Skills and Education and was charged with identifying future skills requirements and finding ways to fill the skills gap.
Within months, OCS had been handed a proposal for an integrated national approach to finding new talent by running online and face-to-face competitions. So was born Cyber Security Challenge UK (www.cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk), a not-for-profit company supported by Government, industry and academia to take forward the idea. Less than ten days after its media launch, it had attracted over 4000 applicants for its inaugural competition in 2010.
That first year the cyber security ‘Champion’ was a part-time postman in his early 30s from West Yorkshire who had no formal cyber security qualifications but an absolute passion for the subject. He was subsequently employed by the Post Office as a full-time member of their information security team. Taking part in ‘The Challenge’ had given this talented amateur the opportunity to showcase his potential to a panel of assessors drawn from across the profession.
A further Cyber Security Strategy was published by the UK Government in 2011 and another in 2016; these have become the international benchmark for joined-up national thinking on cyber security and placed the UK in the global vanguard when it comes to securing our online World. Thanks to continuing support from these national strategies, Cyber Security Challenge UK has gone from strength to strength; running events in all corners of the UK; running events specifically to address the gender imbalance; running events targeted at different age groups – schools, colleges, universities and career-changers; running events to improve neuro-diversity; running events in collaboration with the National Crime Agency to encourage youngsters in danger of falling into a life cyber-crime to put their talents to work on the right side of the law.
Another highlight of recent years came in 2015 when David Cameron signed a trade deal with Singapore which included an agreement for the UK to help establish and support the development of Cyber Security Challenge Singapore. Internationally, the UK is also collaborating with 20 European partners to run the annual European Cyber Security Challenge competition where teams of the top ten under 25s from each country compete against each other.
Many of those who have engaged with the Challenge have gone on to have well-paid careers in the sector – some are now the rising superstars of the industry; their progress is heartening to see. It has also been heartening to see a significant number of other initiatives that have sprung up to help promote careers in cyber security and to find the talent that the UK continues to need in ever growing numbers – the numbers entering the profession are at an all-time high but still outpaced by demand.
The Government’s Cyber Discovery programme and GCHQ’s Cyber First initiative are both now making their own huge contributions to growing the talent pipeline – particularly in the age range 14-18 and onwards into university. With this in mind, Cyber Security Challenge UK has decided expand its portfolio of offerings by providing immersive 2-hour taster sessions to youngsters aged 11-14 (i.e. Key Stage 3) to inspire and encourage them to take part in Cyber First, Cyber Discovery and CyberCenturion (the UK inter-school’s competition). This new initiative, Cyber Challenge in a Box (CCIAB), is designed to be delivered at scale in schools across the UK from September onwards. Advanced trials in schools and other venues over the last few months have delivered a great deal of very positive feedback from a hard-to-please audience – the children themselves!
Collaborating with partners and sponsor organisations has always been the hallmark of the Cyber Security Challenge UK approach. Over the years it has developed a network of sponsor organisations and supporters; from the public and private sectors; from large multinationals to SMEs; from banking & retail to defence & security; from utilities to telecoms.
Cyber Security Challenge UK needs to expand its network further if it is to inspire yet more talent to join the profession. If you would like your organisation to play your part in growing the UK’s cyber security talent pipeline, then contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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