How to make the most of cyber apprenticeships
Capturing talented school leavers and guiding them into cyber could help keep the UK safe from mounting attacks, says Katie Watson, apprenticeship and training lead, Chartered Institute of Information Security.
There have already been reams written about the cyber security skills shortage, but attracting fresh blood to the industry, giving those who are interested a clear idea of the opportunities available, and helping recruits build their careers is still essential.
This is where apprenticeships can enter the picture – helping dispel misconceptions around the profession; giving a route into the industry to people from all backgrounds; and giving organisations the opportunity to build the competence and experience in employees that they need.
However, there are still ways to make apprenticeships even better.
Attracting the next generation
The first thing an apprenticeship should do is dispel myths around the security profession while showing potential employees the benefits it can provide, and a clear route to their future career. Infosec is a huge industry, with an almost unbelievable variety of interesting, well-paid and important roles to fulfil.
Younger generations will understand the modern internet and the basics of security better than their older peers did at the same age, and may even have encountered elements of cyber security that pique their interest in a career.
But understanding the roles and career pathways available isn’t so easy, and won’t be solved with a quick Google search. Similarly, organisations looking to employ future cyber security professionals don’t always know where to start.
Any apprenticeship should demonstrate how cyber security is a career for people from any background. I’ve known people who joined the industry straight from school; from solving an incident at work and realising they have a talent; or even from a completely different career route, from teaching to bar work.
Any apprenticeship needs to demonstrate how the opportunities available in cyber security can match and exceed those in other careers; and how the skills people have already built up, from educating children to dealing with customers and operating under pressure, will help in their new career.
Giving the people what they want, and need
Ultimately, apprenticeships come down to skills. The internet, technology, and the threats people and organisations face are changing all the time. If cyber roles are filled with people who don’t have the right experience or knowledge, the risk of them making dangerous and ultimately destructive decisions increases.
Apprenticeships need to emphasise the importance not only of technical skills, but of the “soft” interpersonal skills that are increasingly important in cyber strategies. After all, your technology may be perfect; but if you can’t convince employees to follow procedures, or executives to invest in security, then it’s unlikely to stay perfect for long.
At the same time, apprenticeships need to educate apprentices on the skills that both they and their employers will need over their career. The best way to do this is to have a framework of which skills are needed for which roles at which levels. This will be key in ensuring the programme can be focused on giving apprentices not only the skills they need to begin their career, but an understanding of how they will need to develop to meet their future ambitions.
Apprenticeships should also look at how they use external talent. There is a wide range of individuals and experts who can offer vital insight for people at the beginning of their cyber careers. While these might not have the time or inclination for full-time teaching, making use of these resources to provide individual seminars or courses can give apprentices a vital boost.
Building a community
Like any other educational course, an apprenticeship is also to a great extent a social opportunity. Almost everyone has friends or relationships they have built up from school, college, university or even evening classes, and apprenticeships are no different. Any successful programme should create a sense of community, with a group of peers who are able to share experiences and advice throughout their careers – and even teach the next generation when ready.
Similarly, when their apprenticeship is complete, apprentices should be ready to join the wider infosec community. A programme that grants membership to professional organisations at the end will give the apprentices a vital start in the industry, and will give the industry fresh blood to nurture and learn from.
When individuals leave school or college or begin an apprenticeship, it could be the beginning of a shining career – or the moment when the industry loses a vital cyber talent. By ensuring apprenticeships truly show the potential of a cyber career; teach the right skills; and welcome apprentices into the cyber community, we can make them a crucial asset.