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Government fund to boost the number of female and neuro-diverse security workers

The government has launched a new fund to address the UK’s cyber skills shortage by tackling the underrepresentation of women and neuro-diverse people in the security industry.

The Cyber Skills Immediate Impact Fund is being rolled out this week as a pilot to charities and training providers looking to grow or develop a model for preparing staff for a career in the sector.

Under the pilot scheme, organisations will be offered awards of up to £50,000 in a bid to build a sustainable supply of home-grown cyber skilled professionals.

A document outlining guidance for applicants explains that the assessment process is open to all demographics, but primarily aimed at addressing the profession’s underrepresentation of female and neuro-diverse candidates, such as those with autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia.

“Therefore, [we] will give additional weighting to initiatives that focus on helping more women (e.g. initiatives that help female returners to work who have been out of the labour market due to caring responsibilities) and neuro-diverse candidates,” the document states.

Margot James, the recently appointed minister for digital and the creative industries, told NS Tech the pilot seeks to instantly “increase the diversity and numbers of those working in the industry”.

She added: “We want to be at the forefront of tackling the gender imbalance in the tech workforce and make sure the fantastic opportunities on offer are available to everyone, no matter what their background.”

Last month, Chris Ensor, director for skills and growth at the National Cyber Security Centre, said that women are “worryingly underrepresented” in the cyber security field. Just 10 per cent of the global security workforce are women, according to a 2015 report.

Government officials received feedback during the policy development process for the pilot that indicated neuro-diverse candidates are also underrepresented. The criteria for the fund, which may be expanded over the course of 2018/19, could be broadened to include other underrepresented groups, NS Tech understands.

Andy Kays, CTO at threat detection management specialist, Redscan, said that if the scheme is successful it will help ease “one of the most pressing challenges facing UK businesses”.

He added: “Too many organisations seem to think that their cyber security problems can be solved with technology, and while utilising the latest tools is important, there is no replacement for well-trained staff and the expertise of experienced cybersecurity professionals.”

Businesses have until 2 March to submit applications and must be prepared to help adults become ready for a career in the sector within six months of the award being made. The government intends to invite further bids if the pilot is successful.