22 Jan 2024
by James Corcoran

Unlocking access and diversity: Bridging the digital skills gap in national security

Guest blog by James Corcoran, Head of Recruitment at Sanderson Government and Defence #NatSec2024

Are there enough Java Developers in the UK who would be clearable to the right levels for National Security? Yes. Are there enough Java Developers in the UK, clearable to national security levels, who would balance diversity within the sector? Yes. The challenge does not lie with skills; it lies with access.

Let's examine the flow of skills and potential challenges on that path.

Firstly, message to the market. Is National Security perceived as openly accessible to all? No. A presentation I conducted with a BME Women in Cyber initiative revealed that 100% of the audience was completely unaware of what clearance level might be suitable for them—a significant challenge. Does National Security proactively market itself? By this, I do not mean posters on Tubes or annual puzzles for younger people. Does it actively engage with the market, initiating conversations with those who have not yet expressed interest? Not sufficiently. Our past and ongoing efforts, facilitated through private sector suppliers, have shown significant success in attracting candidates. By focusing on their skills and capabilities and engaging them in meaningful conversations about this sector, we have observed a substantial increase in interest. Many individuals remain unaware of the available opportunities, highlighting the effectiveness of a targeted approach.

Access has been a recent focal point, with numerous discussions concerning who needs access to what, where, and when. This directly impacts the classification of clearance required, location, and specific job responsibilities. Extensive market engagement has indicated that the analysis and implementation of these aspects have been protracted. While prioritising UK citizen safety is paramount, the subsequent need for qualified individuals to deliver essential services underscores the urgency of addressing this process more expediently. By delineating the required skills for each project level, we can broaden the market to a more diverse workforce, as already demonstrated.

Geographically, there are disparities. While the West Country and London possess well-established networks of cleared resources, the North does not. Relocation is not a viable solution. Instead, attraction strategies should focus on leveraging local talent with the requisite skill sets. Over a six-year period, our direct engagement with government customers facilitated the successful processing and hiring of over 700 individuals. Maintaining candidate engagement throughout the clearance process remains a challenge, underscoring the value of outsourcing certain aspects to ensure efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Finally, the "Recruit, Train, Deploy" model, utilised by Sanderson Government & Defence, emphasises identifying candidates based on specific skills and customer requirements. Upon permanent hiring, candidates receive targeted training to fulfill designated roles, thereby addressing critical gaps. This approach enhances diversity by accommodating individuals currently outside the sector or not meeting clearance criteria. Furthermore, it mitigates potential attrition by facilitating reassignment to alternative roles or organisations, should clearance processes stall.

In summary, attraction and engagement are pivotal. Strategically evaluating clearance requirements, establishing a skilled candidate pipeline, and emphasising talent acquisition and retraining are essential components of addressing digital skills gaps within National Security effectively.

techUK’s National Security Week 2024 #NatSec2024

The National Security team are delighted to be hosting our annual National Security Week between Monday, 22 January 2024, and Friday, 26 January 2024.

Read all the insights here.

National Security Programme

techUK's National Security programme aims to lead debate on new and emerging technologies which present opportunities to strengthen UK national security, but also expose vulnerabilities which threaten it. Through a variety of market engagement and policy activities, it assesses the capability of these technologies against various national security threats, developing thought-leadership on topics such as procurement, innovation, diversity and skills.

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James Corcoran

James Corcoran

Head of Recruitment, Sanderson

With 17 years of recruitment experience, James leads the core recruitment team for Sanderson Government & Defence, specialising in technology and business change for the government security cleared sector. Passionate about closing the skills gap by providing accessible careers for all, James joined the techUK Skills & Diversity Council 2.5 years ago to learn from best in class industry peers and help drive positive change in the tech sector.