A push to engage veterans with cyber skills is currently taking place, as more businesses look to utilise the unique skills of this group.
Something that can only improve the nation’s digital security, says James Hadley, CEO and founder of cyber security company Immersive Labs. It’s the power behind the new Veteran Digital Cyber Academy (VDCA), focused on creating the next generation of cyber security professionals through interactive learning.
For many veterans, making the transition from military to civilian life can be extremely difficult. Some feel out of place and struggle to integrate with society, while others believe they are inadequate and lack the skills or qualifications to find employment. Yet, what most don’t realise is that their wealth of experience, skillset and behaviours are some of the most desirable traits for employers and recruiters. One industry actively seeking military veterans is technology and, more specifically, cyber security.
Currently, there are a huge number of vacancies for those with the skills necessary to take up a role in cyber security, with around 45% of businesses claiming to have a shortage of appropriately trained employees. And it’s not just organisations that are struggling due to a lack of cyber-related talent – more than two-thirds of security professionals say they are too busy with their current workloads to carry out the necessary skills development and training. These statistics serve as a depressingly clear illustration of just how serious is the problem of increasing cyber crime. The good news, though, is that there is still hope, as many avenues can be utilised to sway the balance.
One resource not yet being fully utilised is the Armed Forces, especially when just over 15,000 Service men and women leave the military in the UK every year. Cyber security would be a fantastic career path for the 900,000 or so veterans of working age, especially when it is thought that 200,000 are currently unemployed or inactive. General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE, who served with the UK military and is among those leading the charge for more ex-military to enter tech, says, ‘The transferable skills of the veteran community are a national resource, and have a vital role to play in supporting the security and prosperity of the nation.’
It almost goes without saying that those who have served in the military possess desired qualities that are hard to come by in everyday life. Their leadership skills are unmatched, their handling of crisis-management scenarios is highly sought after and their problem-solving skills are leagues above the rest. And it is worth remembering they have had to combine all of these in some of the world’s toughest conditions.
Before, it was difficult for military veterans to navigate a route and seek out an opportunity within the cyber security industry. Veterans would often have to overcome many hurdles, with recruiters tailoring their job adverts for that ideal candidate who has the technical and commercial knowledge. Core interpersonal skills such as integrity, trust and loyalty – skills that are symbolic and are characteristic of Service men and woman – were often overlooked. Equally, courses and training centres were not readily available for those seeking to build up the necessary hands-on technical knowledge that employers desired.
Addressing this, and aiming to bridge the gap between cyber and military, has led to the formation of TechVets and a new, specific Veteran Digital Cyber Academy (VDCA), which is powered by Immersive Labs, a cyber security company focused on creating the next generation of cyber security professionals through interactive learning. The VDCA aims to help create the necessary connections and dialogue to empower those seeking employment within the tech and cyber industry.
Designed to enforce practical learning and skills development via gamification, the online virtual environment allows veterans to complete technical challenges and gain hands-on experience with real-life scenarios. The free labs are available 24/7 and are designed so that novices can fine-tune core cyber skills like resilience, resourcefulness and perseverance, before developing into cyber security experts at a pace they’re comfortable with. To add an element of competition, users compete on a global leader board, climbing the table by gaining points and task-completion badges. The benefit of this is that potential employers can see and track the progress of individuals. With unlimited job offerings available through the VDCA – and by working in tandem with government institutions, military charities and cyber security companies – the skills gap can really begin to be closed.
The transferable skills of the veteran community are a national resource, and have a vital role to play in supporting the security and prosperity of the nation
General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE
Does it work?
As a Service leaver, you may be under the impression that you must follow a career based on what you did in the military. On the contrary, there are more options available and those that train through the VDCA will be given total commitment and support to enable them to transfer their skills over to a position within tech and cyber. While some veterans have a passion for (or interest in) IT, many simply need inspiration.
Here are just some success stories and testimonials from the VDCA …
Wayne Evans, user of the VDCA platform
‘Since being accepted, I have invested a lot of time in using the platform, with my personal aim to try to bring my practical cyber skills up to scratch to help take my career from general IT to cyber security.
‘Immersive is in the name and is what the labs do. When I do a lab, I get so immersed in it, I always having to try hard to get that badge and score the points, which is enjoyable escapism for me.
‘The labs allow me to maintain and grow my technical cyber skills in areas that I don’t often touch, so the money I invested in my initial training when I left the Services doesn’t go to waste. It has helped dramatically in highlighting areas of technical weakness and areas of future study. I am always learning new commands, tools, and methods and techniques by completing labs. The labs are somewhat progressive, leading and developing you step by step. This method of training is fantastic as it really depends on the individual’s willingness to learn.
The VDCA should definitely be incorporated in the learning plan of anyone embarking on a new career in cyber security
‘For me, since leaving the Forces, I have worked in general IT, with a slow progression into cyber security. Immersive Labs is helping me build my confidence in my technical skills. I am now, as a direct result of participating in the academy, working on external industry qualifications to gain a better job with a cyber security focus.
‘I can, hand on heart, state that I think Immersive Labs is a brilliant cyber range platform that is allowing me to develop my hands-on skills – and, above all, it makes learning fun!’
Anonymous user of the VDCA platform
‘After leaving the Armed Forces well over a decade ago, I found myself looking at jobs in traditional IT support, which exposed me to cyber security, an area I found fascinating. However, my day-to-day employment provided no training and left me with little time to specialise or get the real-world training I needed to take me away from mainstream IT and into cyber security.
‘I have been self-training for a number of years but have never really found anything that can focus my attention and provide a practical skill that I could afford. Then I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Veteran Digital Cyber Academy. I quickly found that the labs provide a wealth of topics, with the right combination of research and practical skills required to give me confidence to look at areas of cyber security I would never have previously considered.
Few are better placed for high-level cyber roles than those who have served in the military
‘The competitive nature of the scoreboard helps keep me focused on getting the next win and encourages me to put in extra effort to get through labs. This has finally paid off, as I have recently applied for a cyber role and been successful – something I may not have contemplated without my new skills.’
Anonymous user of the VDCA platform
‘The VDCA allows individuals embarking on a new career path in cyber security to gain experience in a broad range of cyber security activities that can be used as evidence of practical abilities to any potential employer.
‘Immersive Labs provides an excellent experimental cyber security training platform that is facilitating the development of my knowledge, skills and practical abilities in cyber security. The VDCA should definitely be incorporated in the learning plan of anyone embarking on a new career in cyber security.’
With nation-state attacks occurring more frequently, cyber warfare has become the new norm, with attackers increasing in ingenuity. Therefore, the need for defenders that have a unique skillset to match this threat has never been greater. A Service person's mind-set, coupled with cyber security expertise, is what is required to counter such threats. Aiming to fill this void are programmes such as TechVets with the VDCA. After all, few are better placed for high-level cyber roles than those who have served in the military.
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