There has been talk within the IT industry of a shortage of cyber security skills for several years. However, last week the Government made the shortage official by adding cyber security engineers and analysts to its Shortage Occupation List.  The SOL, drawn up by the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee, is the recognised measure of those areas wherein shortages of skills are most severe and the consequences of those shortages most serious.
The report also notes that whilst there has been an increase in the number of students graduating with computer science-related degrees, they don’t necessarily have the skills that employers are seeking.
Indeed, around seven per cent of computer science graduates were unemployed in 2016/17, down only two per cent from 2012/13. In fact, computer science graduates are more likely to be unemployed six months after graduating than those with other engineering and technology degrees.
The 2016 Shadbolt Review of Computer Sciences Degree Accreditation and Graduate Employability  suggests there is a ‘misalignment’ between the skills with which computer science graduates are being equipped and those that employers need. Employers are keen for educational institutions to teach students the fundamentals of computer science but equip them to adapt to new technologies so that they are not left behind in a fast-changing landscape.
These findings are echoed by the Deloitte Digital Disruption Index  which finds that just 18 per cent of UK graduates and school leavers have the right digital skills. The same report finds that only 25 per cent of technology managers believe that their staff have the right skills and experience to deliver their digital strategies.
The SOL identifies a significant gender gap in IT too. Only 19 per cent of the technology workforce is female as compared with 49 per cent for the general workforce. Jobs in the tech sector and particularly in cyber security are widely perceived as a male preserve.
A study by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) last year  noted that, “One important factor leading to the gender imbalance is the perception that cyber security is male-orientated and ‘geeky’. The low participation of female students in courses relevant to cyber security and the low awareness of the career opportunities in the field (which affects both women and men), limits the flow of female recruits into cyber security roles.”
Addressing the shortfall
While the SOL report acknowledges that short term migration has helped to fill some of the skills shortages, it also recognises that many of the skills needed, particularly for cyber security, are simply not available.
The Government’s Digital Strategy  says that as the digital economy expands, there will be higher demand for people with the skills needed to service it. It aims to widen the number of people who can benefit from the digital economy by including computer skills in programmes aimed at boosting adult literacy and numeracy. Coding skills are also being introduced into the national curriculum for school children.
There is particular emphasis on the need for developing cyber security skills. Strategies such as the NCSC’s Cyber First  scheme seek to identify and encourage the next generation of cyber talent, starting from age 11. It also looks to actively address the gender imbalance with competitions specifically aimed at female students. Cyber First offers free short courses for 11-14 year-olds and for older students wishing to pursue cyber security courses there are bursaries of up to £4,000 a year on offer, together with an apprenticeship scheme that allows people to earn as they learn.
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