According to The Guardian, a new form of cyber-attack has emerged that relies on manipulating AI chatbot prompts. This is a stark reminder for governments and businesses that malicious cyber activity is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Advanced tools are now widely accessible to hackers, leaving countries that fail to properly safeguard against cyber threats vulnerable to attack.
A crucial element of preparing defenses against cyber-attacks is building a strong cybersecurity sector, backed by a deep pool of talented cybersecurity professionals. Many countries are currently struggling with this challenge. The World Economic Forum revealed that in 2021 that there was a global shortfall of 2.27 million cybersecurity experts. Moreover, it is important that a country’s population at large is familiarized with and comfortable with maintaining strong cybersecurity, both at work and in a personal capacity, requiring high levels of digital literacy.
In the face of this serious shortage of skills, a number of governments are leading the charge on establishing comprehensive upskilling and educational programs to boost cyber resilience at both a national and organizational level. Through the implementation of national skilling initiatives, governments are aiming to directly tackle the cyber skills gap to improve national security, and in many cases, this is working effectively.
In response to a 2022 report highlighting a basic cyber skills gap in 51% of UK businesses, the UK government developed a £2.6 billion National Cyber Strategy to strengthen cyber resilience at a national and organizational level through investing in multi-generational upskilling.
Central to this strategy is the Upskill in Cyber training program, which provides UK workers with non-cyber backgrounds free digital training to address the growing demand for cybersecurity professionals. Launched in May of this year, the program has already attracted 3,600 applicants and is part of a series of ambitious government programs focused on creating a highly skilled workforce that can effectively tackle cyber threats.
Significantly, the UK government’s drive to create a cyber resilient nation extends beyond the adult workforce. Indeed, this month the government released the news that over 50,000 school students will receive free training in cyber skills through their Cyber Explorers program. By investing in the upskilling of young talent, the government is helping to establish a digitally literate population that will span generations, ensuring a strong future for cybersecurity and greater growth in years to come.
Establishing national level training programs in tech as a whole, as the UK government has done with its cybersecurity initiatives, is essential to securing the future of digital economies. The upskilling at the core of these initiatives can support the creation of high paid jobs as a nation’s tech and cybersecurity sectors grow in line with the increased talent available in this space. In turn, this supports the growth of the wider economy as well.
The US government is also making comprehensive efforts to strengthen and expand their cyber workforce through investing in skilling programs and increasing access to educational and training pathways. As part of their broader National Cybersecurity Strategy, they recently announced a National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy (NCWES) that will tackle both immediate and long-term cyber workforce needs.
The NCWES recognizes that strong collaboration across public and private sectors is essential to securing cyberspace. Alongside targeting industries and cyber job vacancies for the sake of national security, they are also working alongside educators to upskill young Americans to meet the future needs of a dynamic technological environment.
In particular, the strategy is committed to confronting the lack of diversity in the cyber workforce by creating accessible upskilling and career opportunities for underrepresented communities. Commitments made by organizations such as the Office of the National Cyber Director (ONCD) and Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS) address the strategic necessity of creating a diverse digital ecosystem in which all Americans feel empowered to tackle cyber threats.
The tech sector has always thrived on the positive disruption and creativity that accompanies diversity, and initiatives that encourage groups that are typically underrepresented in tech, such as women, mean countries can ensure they capitalize on these benefits whilst strengthening their cyber resilience and wider digital economy. Elev8’s work with the Costa Rican government on their employability strategy, for example, took a strong focus on encouraging women to upskill and launch a career in the tech industry. With between 50% – 85% of participants in the program achieving employability after completing the learning course, Costa Rica’s ecosystem is benefiting from an increasingly diversified and growing tech sector.
Qatar’s National Skilling Program dedicated towards creating a highly trained digital workforce. The program aims to educate 50,000 people by 2025 in advanced digital skills, including cyber skills, to drive economic growth and protect national security.
One of the program’s initiatives, orchestrated by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and delivered in collaboration with Elev8 and Microsoft, was the 2022 launch of Elev8’s- Digital Center of Excellence. The state-of-the-art facility offers a variety of upskilling programs necessary for elevating national cyber resilience.
Furthermore, elev8 has collaborated with a prestigious government entity leading the cybersecurity programs in the Qatar market to deliver the Cyber Eco program, aimed at improving cyber safety awareness for school children. Delivered to over 3,000 students in 30 different schools across Qatar, the program recognizes that children are especially vulnerable to cyber threats due to their increased use of digital devices. They educate children from grades 1–7 on topics including online privacy, cyberbullying, online gaming, social media, and scams, so that they can understand and identify potential cyber threats and confront them appropriately.
Digital Upskilling – the Answer to National Cyber Threats?
The US, the UK, and Qatar provide notable examples of governments deploying digital upskilling strategies to create the national cyber resilience necessary for their countries to plan for, respond to, and recover from increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks.
By coordinating efforts across government bodies, businesses, and academic institutions, and engaging with cross-generational and accessible educational training programs, countries can help ensure that their workforces and general public are ready to tackle future cyber challenges, whilst also creating a sustainable pipeline of cybersecurity and tech professionals that will support the growth of digital economies into the future.