With jobs becoming increasingly automated, cyber-related careers should be higher up the agenda for all

LANGUAGE is a powerful tool, with some words more evocative than others. Take “cyber” for example. It has been in use for many decades, but for the majority of the general public it conjures up images of science fiction baddies or hooded hackers getting up to no good in front of blinking computer screens.

This terminology, and whether it is off-putting to talent that could be attracted into the industry, was one of many topics of discussion at an event held in Dundee last month. “Evolving Cyber Skills for a Growing Economy” was presented by CGI in collaboration with Dundee City Council, Abertay University and the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC).

The choice of Dundee was not a random one. The city is set to be at the heart of Scotland’s Cyber Security Quarter, incorporating an R&D centre, as part of the Tay Cities Deal.

The discussion panel was made up of experts from business and the public sector, invited to the event by Justene Ewing, Vice-President Consulting Services at CGI, pictured below.

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“Terminology was spoken about at great length,” she says. “Why do we need to call it cyber? Would it be more helpful to call it IT security and to stress the practicality? The idea of being hacked is a personal one and we want to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.”

As Justene explains, cyber security is a practical service, delivered with a set of tools that makes it not dissimilar to other technology. “It’s about development, creativity, problem-solving, innovation and thinking about emerging technologies.

“At the moment though, cyber seems to have a little of the GCHQ about it. Something unreachable.”

The people that need to be reached are those who have the skills to build a successful career within the industry. CGI has a range of entry points for people at all stages of their career, and as Justene says, this is a situation that benefits not only the industry but also any interested candidates.

“I was chatting with the head of a large organisation who is reaching retirement age recently. He said he would love to retrain and become an ethical hacker. There’s no reason why that can’t happen. It’s about problem solving - about taking something apart and putting it back together again. It is reachable and it is achievable.”

She adds that companies such as CGI have a role in changing the narrative around the terminology but the public sector and particularly education has to play a part in supporting teachers and careers teachers in this. This is echoed by Mandy Haeburn-Little, Chief Executive of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, who was part of the panel at the Dundee event.

“I worry that we are not doing enough to support teachers,” she says. “It’s a changing landscape and we can’t expect teachers to automatically be aware of the opportunities available across IT.

“Skills Development Scotland are addressing skills from primary school onwards through to PHD level. Schools really need to be hubs, where business skills are also part of what is taught, equipping children to go into the workplace.”

Mandy adds that careers teachers in particular need to be helped to understand and communicate the possibilities of a workplace that is changing more rapidly than perhaps ever before. 

“We used to talk about jobs that won’t exist in five years, now we are talking about jobs that won’t exist in two years. Teachers can’t be expected to be automatically ready for this transition.”

Apart from young people training for a career, this brings in the aspect of the mature end of the workforce who, whether they choose it or not, are in a position of retaining for the second or even third career of their working lives. 

This is something that Richard Holmes, CGI’s Head of Cyber Services, pictured below, has been looking at. “I would say that there are initiatives for people who, for example, are leaving the forces and need to retrain,” he says. 

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“But in other areas, and looking at particular groups such as women,  or at people working in IT or STEM based careers, there historically hasn’t been much of a focus on that.”

Richard adds that although there are some specific skills around cyber, there are many cyber-related roles that require broader skills. That could be in project management, people management, client engagement and many others, but many involving the “softer” skills.

“Some of the soft skills can be the hardest to develop and get right. Some people get them from early childhood. 

“Can they listen? Can they read and understand requirements? Can they articulate things clearly and concisely in a way that is understandable to whoever the intended consumer is? 

“Those who people might think of as “cyber geeks”, might not be as strong in those areas.

“If you want all-round capability, you have to mix up those with the hard technical skills with people who have those broader skill sets. 

“And that’s whether you’re providing cyber as a service or whether you’re doing it within your own company.”

The industry also comes up against the image portrayed in the media of cyber as a battle against an adversary. 

“I can understand why that might not resonate with people,” adds Richard. 

“If they look a bit deeper though, they could be perfect for the industry and the industry could be perfect  for them.”

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Scotland could enter elite global IT league

But Scottish Business Resilience Centre chief warns complacency will hamper development

TERMINOLOGY aside, Mandy Haeburn-Little, Chief Executive of SBRC, is concerned that although the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland have done a huge amount in this area, there are still the skills gaps that exist in cyber and software.

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Workers of the future will shun the restrictions that most large corporates currently present.

 

She sees potential for Scotland to be a world leader, but there are points that need to be addressed if that is to be realised. “I am very clear that Scotland has the opportunity to be world-class - in computing skills, in creating jobs, and creating the investment for those jobs,” she says.

“At the recent Dundee event, I was unequivocal that I am not here for small ambition.”

Scotland has a long history of innovation, and at the moment Dundee and the surrounding area has great potential to be a technical hub worldwide.

“We tend to think about that area as being steeped in gaming, but that is embedded and has done very well. There are some really strong entrepreneurial technology companies around Tayside, but some level of skills gaps.”

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 Mandy Haeburn-Little, Chief Executive of SBRC

 

Technology encompasses a broad range of disciplines. We need to consider analysing medical research, defending against malicious attackers, digital art, Scottish space development, travel, developing new currencies, eco houses and the Internet of Things among many others.”

Mandy also points out the changing nature of how we work and how everyone will be working differently in the future. “They will be working in a much more self-selected way, a more flexible way that won’t recognise what we have known as office hours.

"That will mean we will have to change how we engage with businesses. They may even be running multiple businesses.

“If we make sure our ambition is big enough to address the skills required across the whole field of computing, ensure that investment into business, and retain our talent, Scotland could be in a completely different league.”