The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched an online platform for children between the ages of 11 and 14 to teach them cyber security skills.
Introduced as part of the government’s ongoing National Cyber Strategy, the Cyber Explorers platform uses characters – the Citizens of Cyber City – to guide children through a number of scenarios with the hope of laying the foundations for future cyber security talent.
Cyber minister Julia Lopez said: “For years, the UK has led the world in cyber security, but we’re now looking to the future. This sector is home to some of our most exciting, innovative jobs, and they must be open to everyone.
“Cyber Explorers will give thousands of young people the opportunity to learn the digital skills they need for the modern workplace and get the best possible start on their journey towards a career in cyber.”
The UK is suffering from a widespread technology skills shortage, but the problem is especially notable in the cyber security sector, where in 2020 only around 10% of talent had the skills required to fill the gap.
The number of people joining the sector worldwide is growing, but research from (ISC)2 suggested that to properly secure organisations and keep up with growing demand for security, more talent would have to be trained and join the sector.
Research by DCMS also found only a third of companies expect to be able to access the digital skills they need in the future, despite cyber security creating 6,000 new jobs in the UK over the past year.
The goal of Cyber Explorers is to give around 30,000 young people access to resources that may encourage them into cyber roles in the future, eventually helping to plug the UK’s cyber skills gap.
Julia Lopez, DCMS
The platform will help students understand the careers available to them in cyber security through a series of quizzes and activities. It will also introduce them to cyber concepts such as open source intelligence, digital forensics and social engineering.
Diversity is also a focus of the Cyber Explorers platform, as DCMS admitted there was an underrepresentation of women and people from low socio-economic backgrounds involved in the cyber sector, with women only making up 16% of those in cyber roles.
Some schools in Newport, Birmingham, Bradford, Newry and Inverclyde will also have access to events run by local businesses and networks to help increase reach to young people from ethnic minority groups or low socio-economic backgrounds to ensure they can benefit from the Cyber Explorers programme.
By targeting 11- to 14-year-olds, DCMS hopes students may develop an interest in cyber before they select their GCSE options, possibly increasing the number of children who choose to study computing subjects in the future, including those who are currently under-represented in the industry.
Designed to work alongside the CyberFirst initiative from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Cyber Explorers is complementary to the UK’s school curriculum and can be used in classrooms, at after-school clubs or at home.
The government has been steadily working to increase cyber security talent in the UK over the past few years. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the NCSC continued to run CyberFirst programmes, and last year a new government-backed body, the UK Cyber Security Council, was set up to provide security education, training, skills and certifications.