How the NCSC’s CyberFirst programme is helping BT tackle the cyber skills gap

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BT was recently designated a ‘Partner’ of the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) ‘CyberFirst’ programme. In this blog, Kevin Brown (Managing Director, BT Security) and Chris Ensor (Deputy Director for Cyber Growth, NCSC) look at the cyber skills gap, and how initiatives such as CyberFirst are helping to tackle this issue.

For a number of years, voices from across the security industry have highlighted a cyber skills gap, where there simply aren’t enough people with the right knowledge and skills to fill the number of cyber security jobs available. Both private & public sector organisations from across the world are impacted by this, with many publicly committing to work collaboratively to tackle this issue.

Developing the next generation of skilled cyber professionals is understandably a long-term process – whether that be training young people from school onwards through to reskilling current professionals with transferable experience. Yet the need for new talent is already immediate. The unprecedented growth in people spending more time online over the past 18 months has highlighted the importance of the cyber security industry and some estimates suggest there could be currently 3.5 million unfilled cyber security vacancies across the globe.

The CyberFirst programme, run by the National Cyber Security Centre – a part of GCHQ – is at the core of the UK’s response to this issue. The programme was set up in 2016 to help young people aged 11 to 21 explore their passion for technology through cyber security and to support those with an aptitude for the subject to pursue careers in the field.

It also has a clear objective to improve diversity in the cyber sector, with initiatives aimed at inspiring more girls to take up opportunities to enter cyber security jobs. The CyberFirst Girls Competition, for example, is the UK’s flagship cyber contest for schools, and through online challenges and puzzles, girls aged 12 to 13 are introduced to the fast-paced world of cyber security.[1]

BT has supported CyberFirst since its inception, and in recognition of its long-term advocacy and increased support over the past 12 months it was recently awarded ‘Partner’ status. BT is one of only 7 companies[2] to have this status, which will allow it to play a more active role in defining the strategy and direction of the programme. It also recognises how BT has engaged with the CyberFirst programme to develop its recruitment processes and provide real near-term benefits to its workforce.

BT has achieved this by ensuring that its work with CyberFirst is focused on one key principle – that, fundamentally, everyone benefits if we can make it easier for skilled and passionate people to actually enter roles in the cyber industry. It may sound simplistic or obvious, but one of the most impactful things we can do is to remove some of the hurdles, complications and delays that young people face when trying to join the sector.

For example, every year, the CyberFirst programme sets up hundreds of summer placements for carefully selected and security-checked university students on its bursary programme and they are placed at organisations across the cyber industry, including BT.

The benefits of these placements are evident, for the students who gain practical real-world experience of cyber careers and for the organisations in identifying talented people. However, some organisations do not take the logical next step and set up a process which allows talented students to create a future commitment with the company they were placed with. Instead, upon graduating from university, students simply go onto the job market.

In response to this, BT has streamlined its recruitment processes to improve its conversion of CyberFirst summer placement students onto its graduate programme. We have worked collaboratively to align our respective recruitment and assessment processes, resulting in a model where CyberFirst placement students receive an offer to join BT’s graduate scheme prior to their return to the final year of university (rather than needing to wait until they’ve finished their degrees).

This year, 22 CyberFirst bursary students were recruited by BT for its 2021 Summer Placement programme, which is the largest number since it started working with CyberFirst. The placements began in June and will run for 10 weeks, and provided the students meet the criteria we hope that many will go on to join the graduate programme.

Solutions for the cyber skills gap, and the impact of initiatives to tackle it, will not be instant. However, by working collaboratively across the public and private sector, we can build momentum that will create the workforce needed to tackle the security problems of the future. Shorter term, removing the obstacles that can hinder young people starting and progressing their careers provides an excellent way of encouraging more immediate entrants to the industry.

For more information on careers at BT Security, visit: https://www.bt.com/careers/careers-at-bt/security

For more information on the CyberFirst programme, visit: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/cyberfirst/overview


[1] BT has supported the CyberFirst Girls Competition since 2019. It has designed cyber security challenges for the participants to tackle and it hosted a semi-final for the top teams in the East of England in February 2019.

[2] Allstate; BAE Systems Applied Intelligence; BT; IBM; Global Cyber Alliance; QA; Qinetiq