12 Oct 2023
by Spencer Collins

Inspiring the next generation of cybersecurity experts with Cyber Explorers

Guest blog by Spencer Collins, Principle Technical Learning Specialist at UK Government/QA #techUKCyber2023

The digital revolution has brought about immense benefits, from the ability to connect with people worldwide in a heartbeat to innovations that have radically transformed industries. However, with these advancements comes a growing need for cyber security professionals. As cyber threats evolve, so too must the skills of those we rely on to protect our digital landscape. Yet, the cyber security industry continues to face a significant skills gap, with over 50% of businesses lacking basic cyber skills.

This brings us to a crucial question: How can we encourage more individuals, regardless of their age or stage in life, to enter the cyber profession? The answer may lie in the Cyber Explorers programme.

Launched in February 2022 by the UK government, Cyber Explorers was initiated to introduce students aged 11-14 to the exciting world of cyber security. Built and delivered by cyber security subject matter experts at QA Ltd., Cyber Explorers is a free learning platform where students can explore engaging and challenging cyber scenarios, collect badges, and boost their cyber skills. As well as complementing the curriculum, students learn how digital, computing and cyber skills underpin many exiting career paths such as AI innovation, sports technology and social media content creation.

Over 58,000 students from over 2,300 schools across the UK have already registered, and learning about foundational cyber security skills that will serve as stepping stones to more advanced computer science courses and, eventually, rewarding careers in the cyber sector.

Breaking barriers and fostering inclusion

Only a third of companies are confident they will be able to access the digital skills they need in the years to come. The lack of relevant training is a barrier keeping young people from some of the country’s most innovative and exciting careers. Currently, girls and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are underrepresented in computer science and IT courses at GCSE and equivalent levels. This trend continues in today’s cyber security workforce with just 17 per cent of roles in the sector are filled by women and many senior roles are not fully representative of wider society.

Cyber Explorers has been designed to engage younger students before they choose subjects for their GCSEs and equivalent qualifications with the aim of improving the diversity of pupils considering computer science courses at Key Stage 4 and beyond. Inclusion was essential to the success of the Cyber Explorers pilot, with the campaign aiming to also tackle early on inequality in the sector. As a result, nearly 80% of learners in the pilot came from schools based outside of London and the South East, 49% of students identified as female, and 24% of students coming from an ethnic minority background.  

Building on the results of the pilot, careers events were then introduced with technology companies like Amazon and Verizon partnering with the programme to provide insights into the practical applications of cyber skills, to enable students to visualise a future in the sector. Importantly, the platform's accessibility standards also ensures that students across the UK, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, geography, or socio-economic background, have equal opportunities to engage and benefit.

Initiatives like Cyber Explorers can act as catalyst for positive change, driving inclusivity and diversity within the cyber workforce. Discussing the benefit of the programme, Karen Morris, Year 8 teacher, Stroud High School said:

“The Cyber Explorers platform has provided a way for us to teach about cyber skills to our Year 8 students in an engaging, and creative way. The fact that this platform is so good yet free is just fantastic!”

Building the future of cyber security

Government is committed to developing a sustained and diverse supply of highly-skilled people into the cyber workforce and future national security. We need to ensure young people are equipped with the right knowledge and tools to succeed from basic cyber hygiene to building their expertise. We are working closely with the Department for Education to maximise opportunities through the formal education system and ensuring programmes support pupil’s core learning.

 This also involves close engagement with the National Centre for Computing Education to promote computing and cyber security to young people through the CyberFirst programme, which Cyber Explorers is a part of.

Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Cyber Growth, emphasises the significance of introducing students to cyber security.

“The UK’s cyber industry is growing rapidly, but it’s facing a skills shortage as a result – which is why it’s so important to have initiatives such as Cyber Explorers which work to uncover cyber talent and support young people across the country in exploring the career opportunities this thriving industry has to offer.

As part of the CyberFirst Programme, Cyber Explorers will play a key role in making cyber more accessible to young people, building the cyber skills pipeline of the future.”

Thus, initiatives like Cyber Explorers play a pivotal role in uncovering latent talent and supporting the nation's youth in exploring the abundant opportunities the sector offers.

With the digital age upon us, it is important for everyone to have a foundational understanding of cyber principles. As the cyber landscape continues to evolve, initiatives like Cyber Explorers help ensure that the next generation is equipped, encouraged, and excited about the prospects of a career in cyber security.

You can find out more about the Cyber Explorers programme here

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Spencer Collins

Spencer Collins

Principle Technical Learning Specialist , QA