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Bridging the cyber skills gap: Upskilling solutions in thriving industries

As cyber attacks continue to grow, it’s important to have an equally strong defence. In this article, we’ll explore why cyber skills matter and how to fix the growing cyber skills gap in the UK.

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From creating strong passwords and avoiding phishing attempts to staying connected to a secure network – we all understand, at some level, what safe digital practices are and why they’re important. 

Whether at home or in the office, information and data security is something we’re all responsible for. That said, move beyond the surface and you’ll see that cyber security is more than just your annual workplace Internet safety training.

As the way we work continues to evolve, so do the safety and security measures needed to keep our data secure. With that, the job market has opened up a wealth of opportunities for cyber security professionals, however, the reality is less than ideal. 

With the news that there is a widening cyber skills gap in the UK, it’s important to ask why – and more importantly, how can we fix it? We’ll explore that, and more, in this article.  

An introduction to cyber security and cyber skills

Cybersecurity, as defined by The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), focuses on reducing the risk of cyber attacks and protecting the data, devices and services we use. Simply put, the methods and techniques used to protect data all form what we know as cybersecurity. 

While the success of these data security practices and policies within organisations and businesses relies on all employees – cybersecurity professionals are responsible for implementing them, strategising and tackling any issues that may arise.

Why cyber skills matter

It goes without saying that businesses continue to be affected by cyber attacks. The way we use the Internet is rapidly transforming and much like the average Internet user who needs to develop digital skills (e.g. media literacy) to keep up, so do the professionals, namely cyber security professionals. 

While positions within the industry are varied, risk management, data protection and privacy, security testing, incident response and understanding cloud systems are just some of the technical cyber skills that industry professionals need to be well-versed in.

To ensure the Internet is a safe place for all and to strengthen the UK’s position as a leading cyber power, cyber security matters – as do the cyber skills needed to successfully keep data and digital services secure. As more employees send and store confidential data digitally, use digital tools and communicate online (thanks to remote and hybrid working environments), it’s essential that cyber skills match up. 

The cyber skills gap in the UK 

As an industry, cyber security is accelerating at rapid speed. A record number of people are actively looking to start a career in cyber security. According to a report on cyber security skills in the labour market, there were roughly 160,035 cyber security job postings in the last year. Compare this to the number of full-time cyber security professionals at specialist firms – just over 58,000

Along with a well-known 0% unemployment rate and an estimated £10.5 billion yearly revenue, it’s clear that cyber security is one of the most in-demand industries, not only in the UK, but globally. Surely with such a high demand, there would be enough professionals to fill those roles? The reality is more surprising than you might think. 

What you need to know 

Recently, The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology released a report detailing their findings on cyber skills security skills in the UK labour market. The results were staggering.

  • Over 50% of businesses have only one person responsible for cybersecurity. 
  • 50% of all UK businesses have a basic cyber security skills gap, while 33% have an advanced cyber security skills gap, and these figures are similar to previous years.
  • 37% of cyber security-related vacancies were reported as hard-to-fill.
  • There is an estimated shortfall of 11,200 people to meet the demand of the cyber workforce.

With increased interest in the government’s latest National Cyber Strategy and a record number of applications for the Upskill in Cyber programme, the demand for cyber skills is at an all time high, meaning that there’s never been a better time to upskill or reskill to meet this growing demand. 

Why is there a cyber skills gap?

It’d be reasonable to question why a skills gap is so prevalent in such an in-demand industry. After all, cyber attacks and the need for digital safety aren’t new. So why cyber security?

Taking a look at the data, the responses from employers and recruiters may give some insight. 

Barriers to entry: Some employers have reported that they do not have the resources to train or support entry-level cyber security professionals. 

Lack of progression: Data has shown that some employers are unable to provide higher salaries and opportunities for career progression for junior employees who now have more professional experience. 

Not enough resources: Over 50% of businesses have only one person responsible for cybersecurity, and generalist roles are shown to have more of a skills gap than specialist roles. 

Salary: Cyber security salaries in the UK may be unsatisfactory when compared to other countries.

Lack of diversity: According to the report, only 17% of the cyber sector workforce is female and 14% of senior roles are filled by women. 

How to fix the cyber skills gap 

Perhaps the biggest reason for the cyber skills gap in the UK is the limited access to learning opportunities. Looking at the data, the lack of resources already suggests that those in the industry are not adequately trained or supported to bridge those gaps. For those outside the industry looking to jumpstart their career, it’s a matter of finding the right learning opportunities. 

Lord Jo Johnson, Chairman of FutureLearn, says, “As the Government’s Upskill in Cyber programmes attract record applicants, it is clear that cybersecurity is a thriving industry.

However, the widespread skills gap in cybersecurity underscores the need for strategic upskilling, which would provide tangible benefits for employers, the Government and the UK economy. 

FutureLearn’s tailored courses, developed by top institutions, many who have identified skills gaps in their respective fields, empower learners to tackle these shortages head-on with industry relevant, career-focused learning.”

By assessing the industry’s most in-demand skills and prioritising those via an accredited cyber security course or microcredential, you’re then able to put yourself in a prime position to accelerate your career and earning potential as a cyber security professional. 

With a microcredential, you can expect to learn from top institutions who have identified the skills gaps in their respective fields to create accredited course material that allows you to study at your own pace and upskill (or reskill) in a matter of weeks. Take our Cyber Security Operations (Cisco) microcredential from The Open University, for example, where learners will develop the skills needed to work in cyber security operations. 


Bridging the cyber skills gap with FutureLearn

Andrew Smith, Senior Lecturer delivering the Cyber Security Operations (CISCO) microcredential, says, “Often the challenge for all digital technology professionals is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ a cyber-attack takes place and then – what do you do next? 

Learning CyberOps and becoming a proficient cyber security professional, means that being able to investigate, analyse and evaluate the cyber intrusion is the skill set that sets you apart and maybe helps you defend your organisation against future attacks.”

Whether you’re a current or budding engineer, analyst, consultant or manager, a career in cyber security offers the chance to work with new, innovative technologies and the opportunity to keep learning in one of the fastest-growing industries in the UK. Take your first step to closing the cyber skills gap and get access to accredited online courses with FutureLearn. 

Online cyber security courses with FutureLearn

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