Can furloughed workers be re-skilled in cyber security?

August 31, 2020
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How often on average do we change our career? A 2017 survey in the UK found that at the time, more than half of us were planning to change in the next five years. Another study found that on average, people hold 11.7 jobs between ages 18 and 48; with 27% holding 15 jobs or more and 10% with zero to four jobs. That seems like plenty of change, for some at least. However, when change is forced upon us it can be frightening. So how do we take control? The suggestion is that our working life is impermanent and unpredictable and by electing to change career, we are taking control and making the decisions. In the midst of a global pandemic, the unpredictable environment has never been more real.

The COVID-19 pandemic 2020 has forced many changes on individuals and their working life; those most affected have been long term furloughed. This provides a chance to consider any relevant opportunities and perhaps for individuals, to reflect on their next move. Many barriers have been identified that stop us wanting to get involved in changing our careers. These include primarily fear, but also a perceived lack of skill or experience, inertia, attitude to risk….. the list goes on. A furloughed employee has often been pushed through a number of these barriers and can be left asking themselves “OK – what next”.

The £8.3 billion UK cyber security sector has struggled to fill the skills gap and we now have a number of workers looking for an alternative career. It seems like a simple case of supply and demand doesn’t it? So “Can furloughed workers be reskilled in cyber?”.

Quick answer – absolutely! There is a huge misconception that the cyber sector is made up of technology geeks in hoodies, staring at screens 24/7. The reality is quite different but just as problematic. The UK government report highlights the lack of diversity within the cyber sector workforce. It falls well behind other digital sectors and has shown extreme inertia in encouraging things to change. For example, “few firms have adapted their recruitment processes or carried out any specific activities to encourage applications from diverse groups.” A snapshot shows that 15% are female, 16% are from an ethnic minority and 9% are neurodiverse.

Effective cyber is multidisciplinary, reflects society and includes a good representation of all individuals within it. In reality, our cyber sector is much more limited. It is mainly male, mainly white and prides itself on projecting an unapproachable image. Ideally, to be effective it needs to be open, transparent, welcoming, multidisciplinary and ultimately diverse.

The roles within cyber are naturally diverse and include: culture change; engagement and change; networking; cloud engineering; access control; and everything beyond and in between. Widening the recruitment pool is exactly what it needs. As of the 2nd of August, there were 1.2 million people furloughed in the UK. These individuals from diverse roles with different backgrounds and experiences represent real life; cyber needs to do the same.

The cyber security sector is often surrounded in mystery, leaving people feeling that there is no way in for them or that ultimately it is not for them at all. We need to remove the mystery, stop talking jargon and welcome this diversity. The skills furloughed employees already have are absolutely transferable and reskilling into cyber is exciting. Choosing to enter into cyber reskilling also opens up a significant number of different  and very diverse roles and opportunities in a sector that is booming. The benefits of this are wider than the individual; organisations would benefit from the opportunity to more easily recruit cyber professionals; and ultimately lower unemployment could reduce government borrowing and help economic growth. Reskilling into cyber following prolonged furlough could be just what the cyber security sector, organisations and the economy needs.

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