Microsoft partners with MK college to plan Institute of Tech Bletchley Park

News by Grace Johansson

On Wednesday 7 March Milton Keynes College in partnership with Microsoft held a bid event for the creation of the Institute of Digital Technology at Bletchley Park, home of the World War Two Codebreakers.

On Wednesday 7 March Milton Keynes College in partnership with Microsoft held a bid event for the creation of the Institute of Digital Technology at Bletchley Park, home of the World War Two Codebreakers.

Bid supporters include KPMG, City & Guilds, Volkswagen Financial Services and Cranfield University. The project will create an inclusive centre for the teaching of technical qualifications, apprenticeships and other training to help redress the desperate shortage of skilled people in the cyber-security sector. It will seek to recruit and train specialists in careers such as Network Engineering, Software Engineering, Development & Testing and Data & Business Analytics. The transformation of the area at the heart of a historic location will be right at the heart of the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge growth corridor and Milton Keynes College and its supporters are among those hoping to turn the corridor into the UK's Silicon Valley.

It has become quite a problem for companies to employ the level of specialists needed to protect data and defend themselves against digital attacks, according to a recent study from the industry association ISC(2) . Through this project being created by this consortium of companies it is hoped that eventually up to 1,000 students and adult learners a year will study and become Bletchley Park alumni in a wide range of skills.

Speaking to SC Media UK, Derrick McCourt, general manager, Customer Service Unit, Microsoft explained: “All of our customers have a shortage in digital skills, so our focus is helping every sector to bridge the digital skills gap they have.

“Microsoft has 30,000 brand new digital apprenticeships between now and 2020, so those are new entrants in the market, students coming through the system, landing new jobs. But we are committed to training over half a million cloud experts and they will come from a range of disciplines.

“For Microsoft supporting the programme is an amazing channel for creating more skills in the marketplace. I think there's a real vision here.”

In terms of apprenticeships, as well as supporting the Bletchley Park Institute of Digital Technology plan, Microsoft has people going through level 4 apprenticeships all the way to degree level apprenticeships and its own programme. It has its first students already graduating so that is exciting for them. For Microsoft this is also nationwide so it is not just around Milton Keynes.

Dr Julie Mills, principal and chief executive, Milton Keynes College provided SC Media UK with more detail  on the college and the project saying that the opportunities being provided will be employer-led and that it is a values-led institution focused on the project they want to create.

“The idea to create an Institute of Digital Technology here really very much came about because as a college we recognise that there is a significant skills shortage and our employers that we work with locally talk to us about the challenges they have in recruiting technical and digitally skilled people. So the idea of trying to develop something at Bletchley Park really came about because we all know and love Bletchley Park and are inspired by it's story and we thought what a great place to build something new.

“The government recently announced that it wants to invest in skills so we've got the opportunity to bid for funding to take this idea forward which is too good an opportunity to miss.

“There will be about a thousand students a year that go through the institute and that will be a mixture of traditional full-time and part-time courses, a strong emphasis on apprentices and apprenticeships and absolutely the opportunity for adults to upskill both in terms of their workforce and in terms of e-safety and making themselves safer online, and we can do that because of the partners we are working with.

“We are looking at the qualifications being available at levels 4 and 5 predominately so that's like the equivalent of the first and second year of a university qualification and graduates of that, if they did a level 4 qualification, could graduate in a year. If we are successful in the bid we would be open to start the project in January 2019, which would mean we would be open to students in September 2021 and so our first graduates would be in June 2022.

“We are proposing six different pathways, which are technically separate and they are linked to specific jobs, so there will be a range. We recognise though that cyber-leadership is a very particular thing and in all businesses people are having to lead digital transformation and they may not have those technical skills. So particularly working with our partner Cranfield University, we do intend to be developing some of those leadership and management processes, not just for technically skilled people but also for people that lead and manage technical teams.

“I think the pace of technological change is a massive thing so actually organisations may believe that their information and processes and systems are secure and then in an instant they're not, so that speed of change is the biggest threat, linked to a lack of skilled specialists to tackle those problems.”

SC UK Media also spoke to Dr Ruth Massie, senior lecturer in Cyber Governance at Cranfield University, Centre for Electronic Warfare, Information and Cyber gave an insight into Cranfield's part of the project: “We've been running cyber degrees for about six years now, and digital forensics degrees, so we were the first digital forensics degree in the UK to get GCHQ accreditation for example. What we identified through Lynette Ryals who is our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, is that Milton Keynes is a really strong area for investment in this (sector) and so this was a real opportunity for us to come on board on something that was a really large project and really innovative and really important to UK let alone just Milton Keynes.

“There will be a mixture of both new entrants and people switching from other professions. Cranfield comes in at the Masters level,  level 7 in education, whereas Milton Keynes college deals right through from A-Level all the way through to foundation degrees so between us we'll be looking at how do we create these pathways not just for 16,17,18 year old's but all the way through to most of our students, such as our cyber-masters programme who are in their mid-30s.

“The skills being learnt will be broad and not just set to one type of skill, so obviously there's a really important place for having a cyber-security and technical skills background, and those abilities to defend against ransomware attacks and all of these technical skills. But I come from a management background, my PHD is in management and I look at cyber as a governance, as an organisational issue. Now we heard (at the launch) about how Dominos is a cyber-company now, Amazon is a cyber-company, all of these companies that used to be about delivering stuff and those kinds of activities are now all cyber-orientated, so actually it's really important that we educate right from a younger age that there's a management chain in this, there's a risk chain in this and decisions are around risk and about risk management.”

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