Tackling the UK Cyber Skills Shortage – an interview with Andy Bates, CFO of Gloucestershire College

24th July 2023

Steven Murray, HCR’s Cheltenham-based Partner and Head of IP and Technology Disputes, recently met with Andy Bates, Chief Financial Officer at Gloucestershire College, at a local CyNam event. Having just launched our Future Workspaces report on Tackling the UK Skills Shortage, we were keen to discuss the cyber skills gap in further detail with Andy to understand how the higher education sector was addressing these issues.

Steve: Is there an actual skills gap or are there plenty of employable graduates but the industry is seeking to appoint candidates that don’t exist? For example, they are either good with people or good with the tech, just not both. What can the industry, educators and students do to address this?

Andy: The field of cybersecurity has experienced significant growth and seen an increase in demand for skilled professionals across all levels, including entry-level roles. Cybersecurity has become a critical concern for organisations and individuals alike, as cyber threats continue to evolve and pose risks to sensitive data and digital infrastructure.

The rapid digital transformation, increasing reliance on technology, and the rise in cyberattacks have contributed to a shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals. This shortage has created numerous opportunities for individuals seeking entry-level positions in the field. However, it is important to note that the availability of entry-level cyber roles can vary depending on factors such as location, industry, and market conditions.

Following CyNam’s highly successful event on 9 June which explored the Cyber Skills gap through the lens of three key groups – businesses, providers, and students – one of the areas of considerable interest was the low uptake of entry-level apprenticeships in cyber, particularly with start-ups and SMEs. Due to the high concentration of cyber businesses in the Cheltenham and Gloucester area (11 times the national average) there is strong demand, however, due to the excellent school engagement programmes run by Cyber First, demand from learners is strong. Gloucestershire College receive applications from 20 potential students for every apprenticeship placement advertised with a cyber business.

Steve: While many companies are actively working to address the skills shortage in IT and cybersecurity, are they doing enough?

Andy: The efforts and initiatives taken by companies vary based on factors such as industry, size, location, and individual company priorities. However, there are some common practices that many companies in Gloucestershire are already doing to offer entry-level IT and cybersecurity roles:

  1. Internship programs: Many companies offer internship programs that provide students or recent graduates with hands-on experience and exposure to IT and cybersecurity roles. These programs can serve as a pipeline for entry-level talent, allowing companies to identify and recruit promising individuals
  2. Apprenticeship programs: Some organisations have specific hiring programs targeting entry-level candidates. These programs may include structured training, mentorship, and development opportunities to help new hires gain the necessary skills and knowledge for IT and cybersecurity roles
  3. Collaboration with educational institutions: Establishing partnerships with educational institutions, such as universities and colleges, can enable companies to engage with students early on. They can participate in career fairs, provide guest lectures, and offer real-world projects to students, helping them develop relevant skills and increasing the chances of attracting them to entry-level roles
  4. Clear career paths and growth opportunities: Providing clear career paths and growth opportunities is essential to attract and retain entry-level talent. Companies can establish well-defined job levels, provide mentorship programs, and offer opportunities to work on challenging projects to help individuals progress in their IT and cybersecurity careers
  5. Diversity and inclusion efforts: Creating an inclusive and diverse work environment can help attract entry-level talent from a wider pool. Companies can actively promote diversity and inclusion in their recruitment efforts, offer mentorship programs for underrepresented groups, and support affinity groups within the organisation.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of these initiatives may vary depending on factors such as company culture, budget constraints, and market conditions. While some companies are making significant efforts, there is always room for improvement, and ongoing evaluation and adaptation of strategies are necessary to address the evolving needs of entry-level IT and cybersecurity roles.

Steve: Are there barriers to entry-level roles and apprenticeships in cyber?

Andy: Over the past year CyNam and Gloucestershire College have spoken to many companies to understand the barriers to offering entry-level roles and apprenticeships in cyber.

  1. Awareness and perception: Companies may have limited awareness or understanding of the benefits of apprenticeships in the cybersecurity and IT fields. They may not realise that apprenticeships can be an effective way to attract and develop talent while addressing the skills gap
  2. Resource constraints: Establishing and managing apprenticeship programs requires time, effort, and resources. Companies may have limited capacity or dedicated personnel to design, implement, and oversee apprenticeship initiatives
  3. Lack of structured programs: Developing a well-structured apprenticeship program requires careful planning, including defining specific roles, responsibilities, training curricula, and mentorship arrangements. Some companies may not have the necessary infrastructure or expertise to create and manage such programs effectively.

Despite these challenges, there are many companies in Gloucestershire that recognise the value of apprenticeships and actively offer such opportunities in the cybersecurity and IT fields. Gloucestershire College can work with employers to overcome these barriers and each employer is allocated a dedicated account manager who will work in partnership with them to design the programme.

Steve: What are Gloucestershire College doing to encourage more companies to offer apprenticeships?

Andy: To encourage more companies to provide apprenticeships Gloucestershire College and CyNam continue to increase awareness of the benefits, provide resources or guidance on establishing apprenticeship programs, and create partnerships to facilitate the apprenticeship process. There are also a range of government initiatives and policies that support companies to engage in apprenticeships, which the college can advise employers about.

Gloucestershire College kindly provided us with a student case study for Issac Jowsey – a Cyber Security Integrated Degree Apprenticeship with North Tower Consulting

North Tower Consulting (NTC), a fast-growing specialist management consultancy located in Cheltenham, has been passionate about providing apprenticeship opportunities across many areas of the business and has been benefiting from the enhanced skills, diversity, and innovative perspectives that apprentices bring. Read what Issac has to say about their apprenticeship at North Tower Consulting.

Issac said: “I decided to become an apprentice because I didn’t like the sound of the university approach. I felt I was much more practical and hands-on in my learning style, and I found an apprenticeship where I could learn while developing my skills on the job.

I do a lot of work on the internal IT systems and making sure that everything is running as it should while keeping the company secure from any potential cyber threats.

The way the course is structured means that during off-the-job training I’m at college. In this time, I have a lot of intensive lecturers where I’m taught the theory and foundations for my learning which is what I use to progress through my degree and at my company.

I’m really supported by my company in how they structure my work around my degree. They prioritise my learning as a core aspect of my career that I want to progress in.

I like the freedom and responsibility the apprenticeship gives. It allows me to have this sort of healthy pressure put on me and it’s up to me to control my career and my future. That’s really important, so I find it motivates me to keep working towards this degree.”

Gloucestershire College supports over 1,500 employers each year with their apprenticeship training programmes. If you would like to talk to them please call 01452 563400 or email [email protected]

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