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Why cyber security should be top of the curriculum this new school year

By Josh Lemon, author and certified instructor at the SANS Institute

Johannesburg, 12 Sep 2022

“Cyber security is one of the most thrilling, impactful and dynamic industries on the planet,” says Josh Lemon, who’s worked in the industry for over 15 years.

But does the next generation know that? They should. The cyber security skills gap is ever-growing – and it’s allowing threat actors to find more and more opportunities to compromise organisations. Closing this gap is the industry’s greatest problem – and biggest focus. 

A new generation of cyber talent would help hugely. However, as a relatively young industry, cyber security has a long way to go in establishing itself as a career option for students leaving high school.

Below are my top tips for kick-starting this revolution and securing enthusiastic, motivated, young cyber talent that’s ready to stop future hackers in their tracks.

Why the next generation of cyber talent is vital

The UK’s cyber security industry has experienced fast-rising levels of investment, with 1 800 cyber security firms generating a record £10.1 billion in revenue in the last financial year alone. Yet despite the boundless growth and the UK’s emerging position as a major cyber leader, there’s mounting evidence that firms risk being outpaced on the global stage due to talent supply issues. A 2022 government survey on cyber security skills in the UK labour market revealed that approximately 697 000 – or 51% – of UK businesses reported a basic cyber skills gap, with staff lacking the technical and incident response skills to manage cyber security effectively.

While the UK may be at the cutting edge of cyber growth and investment, the findings highlight a persistent skills gap and a startling lack of cyber confidence. The findings place a new emphasis on businesses to tackle the shortage and create new cyber-confident workforces through investment in training and further development opportunities. With many organisations undergoing digital transformation, it requires employees to adapt with digital skills and for cyber security experts to continuously re-skill to meet the rapid change in the industry landscape.

The digital transformation has emphasised the need for more cyber security experts. Students are leaving school with a foggy image of what a career in the cyber security sector can look like or a very narrow view that cyber security is only for “hackers”. That said, it starts with schools doing their part to inform students of career opportunities that could play a key role in attracting and retaining the future cyber workforce.

Passwords are only the tip of the iceberg

Whether it's the home tablet or the school's laptop, there is a need for cyber awareness in everyday life. Practising the basics of cyber security is something many people do without realising, like passwords and enabling multi-factor authentication on devices. Yet, there's a need for schools to explore cyber security beyond that initial level that has the potential to spark a student's interest in the industry.

To give students the opportunity to work within the cyber security sector, secondary school teachers and career advisors must be able to communicate cyber security career paths. However, sharing these opportunities comes down to teachers and career advisors being aware of the sector and the career streams it offers.

It is a common misconception for high school students that cyber security is only trying to break into computer networks. While this is one speciality within cyber security, there is a vast array of other areas that involve project management, investigation, software and product development, advisory, policy development, risk assessment and so many more.

Kick-starting cyber security conversations with students

Technology is continually advancing, which will only create more avenues for cyber security roles in the future. While it's essential to inform students about the types of careers in cyber security, teachers and career advisors should be aware of the skills and qualities the sector needs beyond technical computer and software knowledge. Once this is achieved, it can shed light on the roles students can go onto.

Technical skills are critical in cyber security, yet they can be learned, fostered and evolved throughout a student's career. Schools need to tap into individual students' strengths in hopes of encouraging them to pursue cyber positions.

Broadly, cyber security enlists leaders, communicators, researchers, critical thinking… the list goes on. Having the qualities needed to fulfil various roles in the industry can position a student remarkably when they first start in the industry. Yet, this comes down to their mentors in high school being able to communicate that a student's inquisitive nature or presenting skills can be applied to various sectors.

Cyber attackers won’t know what’s hit them

It’s an exciting time for students looking to break into the world of digital opportunities. Cyber security should be right up there as an accessible, enticing and unlimited line of work for them to consider taking at university and beyond.

Making this possible starts with conversations and exercises that showcase the qualities students want to develop, like creative problem solving and ‘what if’ scenario planning, which real cyber security specialists use daily.

Kick-start the enthusiasm for cyber security, and the motivation to keep learning, and schools could soon help to make the cyber security skills gap history.