Stefano Capaldo, managing director, Firebrand Apprenticeships
Stefano Capaldo, managing director, Firebrand Apprenticeships

High profile cyber-breaches wreaked havoc across UK businesses in 2016 with costs to firms hitting £34.1 billion. Confidence was shattered in some of our biggest brands and tens of millions of customer records were leaked between Tesco Bank, TalkTalk, Sage and Three mobile.

Severe cyber-security skills shortages exist in every country, but the UK is one of the most affected. Closing the security skills gap starts with skilled employees, but a worldwide shortage of 1.5 million cyber-security professionals by 2020 means it's harder than ever to recruit.

Luckily for businesses, two cyber-security apprenticeship programmes are now ready to fill crucial roles left vacant by the skills gap.

And by taking advantage of a new government initiative, UK firms can leverage apprenticeships to overhaul how they recruit and train IT security professionals.

The Apprenticeship Levy is coming, and it presents an unmissable opportunity for UK businesses to close the cyber-security skills gap and revolutionise the industry.

Use the Levy or lose it

On 6 April 2017 the way the government funds apprenticeships will be revolutionised. Your organisation will be able to hire or upskill staff at a fraction of the current cost.

UK-based employers with a pay bill of over £3 million must invest 0.5 percent of this figure in hiring apprentices. Your cash will be transferred to your digital apprenticeships service account and if it's not used it will be permanently lost.

Plus, employers with a pay bill of under £3 million will benefit massively. From April the government will contribute 90 percent of the cost of your apprentice, including training and recruitment costs. If your organisation has less than 50 employees, you won't pay a penny.

And whilst recruitment will be supported by apprenticeship providers, it can still take months to find your perfect candidate. It's important to start planning now and get ready to hire when the Levy is introduced.

This is a huge opportunity for the IT industry to boost its cyber-security workforce with little-to-no-cost for businesses themselves.

Using the Levy to revolutionise your cyber-security

The lack of investment in cyber-security means an inability to defend against increasingly advanced threats. Breaches - like January's NHS hack - still strike on a regular basis.

You can spend your Levy on a variety of IT roles but savvy organisations will use it to plug their cyber-security skills gap. With the introduction of GDPR in 2018 businesses who don't properly invest in IT security could be fined £17 million. Organisations cannot afford to take that risk.

Spend your Levy on apprenticeships that align to new cyber-security programmes and improve cyber-security skills in your organisation. Currently, two 24-month cyber-security apprenticeships are available from the government.

Cyber intrusion analyst apprentices will be trained to detect breaches in your network security and respond to them professionally. They can develop into your organisation's new network intrusion, incident response, or network operations security analysts.

Alternatively, the Cyber-security technologist programme trains apprentices to focus on security design, architecture and response. The programme is geared around training apprentices to become your new penetration tester, security analyst or security architect. There's also a risk analysis flavour for organisations who need employees specialised in risk, governance and compliance.

These programmes are developed through government standards – a preselected set of skills and knowledge built by industry leaders (previously known as trailblazers). By allowing the tech industry to have its say, these standards have been specifically designed to fulfil the demands of the booming security sector.

Training is as important as tech when it comes to protecting your business and the government recognises this. On these programmes, apprentices get masses of IT security training and industry-standard certifications. The range and amount of training offered differs between apprenticeship providers, but it's all covered by the Levy.

Developing cyber-security skills across the country

As the security threats to businesses become more advanced, organisations must grasp the opportunity presented by the Apprenticeship Levy.

The Levy has the potential to revolutionise the cyber-security industry by creating millions of jobs through government-supported apprenticeship schemes. Skills will be developed through on-and-off-the-job training as a new generation of security professionals are introduced to the workforce.

Employers lacking in cyber-security must invest in these apprenticeship programmes to boost cyber-skills in their organisations. This is one opportunity to close the skills gap that the UK cannot afford to miss.

Contributed by Stefano Capaldo, managing director, Firebrand Apprenticeships