U.K. Weighs Ways To Encourage IT Career Path

Britain can't take advantage of the growing worldwide cybersecurity economic boom unless more young people take up IT as a career.

Gary Flood

April 26, 2013

4 Min Read
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Could the U.K. become a world leader in cybersecurity? Though the government's own £650 million ($1 billion) Cyber Security Strategy is more about beefing up the country's capabilities to better protect itself, the state also seems to be thinking there could be commercial possibilities here, too.

Thus Chloe Smith, minister for political and constitutional reform, told this week's Infosec security conference, Europe's largest annual information security industry get-together, that the government is "working hard to raise awareness of cybersecurity throughout industry and ensuring that the right incentives are in place for industry to take responsibility for securing their own interests."

But, she added, "cybersecurity represents an opportunity for the U.K" given its "history of being innovators in technology and in technical areas such as cryptography." As a result, she argued, there is a "massive growth potential for U.K. businesses and innovators to do very well in the cybersecurity sector," adding that there are nearly 2,400 British companies in the sector and that the country exported £800 million ($1.2 billion) this way.

But that's still a very modest contribution to the global enterprise software market, which IDC this week put at £221 billion ($342 billion). Even Smith's figures say there are only 26,000 Brits, or 16% of all U.K. security employment, employed this way.

[ For information about tech training, read European Students Need Better Tech Training, Study Says. ]

In fact, the minister's remarks contribute to an ongoing debate within the U.K. about how best to respond to the perceived threat of hackers and information insecurity. And this seems to come down to getting more people -- of both sexes -- interested in making IT security a career, a vital prerequisite of achieving the sort of growth the government said it would like to see.

The issue of how best to properly respond to the problem was underlined this week by data from the U.K. IT sector skills body for training and development, E-skills U.K.. It published research that shows that in Britain, there seems to be little fresh blood entering the security field; only 7% of information security professionals are between 20 and 29, with 31% in the 30-39 age group and 21% aged 40 to 49.

"Attracting new talent into the sector is critical, and we need to make sure that new entrants can easily identify and follow a worthwhile career path," said Nigel Payne, project director at the organization.

Part of the challenge the country is facing is that not enough people seem to want to go into IT period -- and certainly not enough females. Thus Nominet U.K., a nonprofit that runs the .uk Web infrastructure, also released data this week that suggests British girls "view potential [IT] career paths as technical [and] male-dominated" and are left feeling "uninspired" by the subject at school.

In the Nominet study, which surveyed 2,008 people ages 13 to 24, only 10% of females, versus 33% of males, report being interested in careers in IT. Coincidentally, the E-skills U.K. research found that only 10% of non-commercial British IT professionals are women.

On the bright side, female students say they aspire to work at well-known technology brands such as Apple, Microsoft and Google -- and more girls than boys view a career in IT as exciting (17%) or cutting edge (36%) instead of "boring" (11%).

Commenting on the study, Nominet's chief executive Lesley Cowley said that "the overall image of IT careers still need something of a rebrand" in the U.K., pointing out that a career in IT can mean much more than a technical role.

"For the benefit of the digital economy, those of us in the industry, education and government need to work together to help inspire and cultivate greater balance and equality in schools and in the workforce," she said.

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