The need for a global cybersecurity workforce is growing quickly. With a fast-evolving cyber threat landscape, there aren’t enough people with cybersecurity skills to fill open jobs and the workforce is lacking in diversity.
A series of pioneering cybersecurity training courses in cities across Europe is opening opportunities for people from underserved communities. Among the students are refugees from Ukraine and Syria, many of them women.
Microsoft is supporting these efforts with additional grants, a year after expanding its cybersecurity skills initiative into Europe. The aim is to bring a more diverse mix of candidates into the European cybersecurity talent pool. Support will continue to be provided to a total of 15 projects in 13 European countries, namely Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The aim is to bring a more diverse mix of candidates into the European cybersecurity talent pool.
Cyberskilling for the Belgian government
MolenGeek describes itself as “the digital ecosystem in the heart of Brussels.” It opened its doors in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighborhood in 2015 with a single goal – helping local youth overcome barriers to careers in tech. It now has a well-established coding school and had adopted the broader aim of making entrepreneurship accessible to all.
MolenGeek is embarking on a program to train young people for careers in the Belgian military’s cybersecurity department in partnership with Microsoft. Those without formal educational qualifications will be given opportunities to join the course and 15 students will gain a degree in cybersecurity.
Major General Michel Van Strythem is the head of Belgian Cyber Command, the military division charged with protecting the government against cyberattacks. He believes the students from Molengeek will be a valuable addition to cybersecurity defense capabilities. “These candidates, who sometimes do not have a formal schooling background, have a way of thinking that is out of the box. They have a certain creativity and sense of innovation. Their desire to learn, their youth and their diversity are valuable assets for defense.”
Building cybersecurity skills across German communities
In Germany, the ReDI School of Digital Integration helps refugees and those newly arrived in Germany to gain IT and cybersecurity skills.
Arman Dinarvand fled Iran with his family in 2018. He arrived in Germany in 2022 after spells in Turkey and Greece, and applied to ReDI after reading a LinkedIn post by the school’s founder, Anne Kjaer Bathel, about the urgent need for cybersecurity specialists.
Arman got a place on ReDI’s first Cybersecurity Summer School, where students learned the basics of cybersecurity. He has now graduated from the advanced course and is looking forward to the next steps on his journey. “Technology is constantly evolving,” Arman told Microsoft in January of this year. “I already had a lot of background knowledge, but so much has changed in the last four years that I’ve also learned a lot of new things.”
Arman has enrolled in the school’s Cybersecurity Digital Career Track, which helps students build professional networks as they embark on their careers.
“It is crucial that we develop a pipeline of diverse talent,” Bathel says, “to work in cybersecurity, to ensure that we are building solutions that serve all of humanity”
Ukrainian refugees in Poland acquire cybersecurity skills
More than 1.4 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed into Poland since Russia invaded the country. The majority are women, and many are looking for work to support their families.
The Kosciuszko Institute is a leading Polish NGO in the field of cybersecurity. It runs the CYBER Trainees program – a course for Polish women and female refugees from Ukraine. It equips students with specialist IT skills, certifications, and internships to allow them to find careers in cybersecurity, a field where only 14% of the jobs are occupied by women.
Karolina Wojtyczek is a project manager for the Cyber Trainees Project. She says the initiative is opening up career pathways for women in the cybersecurity sector.
“It is a great opportunity for any woman who wants to begin a career in ICT. Cyber Trainees showed us how much more we need to do towards equal opportunities in the ICT sector,” she says.
Agata Zielińska, a Polish participant of the program, signed up for CYBER Trainees with the aim of fulfilling a lifetime ambition.
“I liked the idea of this program – the fact that it is addressed to women and its main premise is to improve competencies in cybersecurity,” she told WysokieObcasy.pl in March. “Participation in the program gives me self-confidence and faith in my own abilities. It opens new paths of development and gives me a chance to get to know and learn new things. I can learn the profession that was my dream.”
Community training is part of the solution
These community-focused projects will help grow and diversify the pool of talent able to take on roles countering Europe’s rising cybersecurity threats. The recently launched Cybersecurity Skills Academy aims at boosting the number of skilled cybersecurity professionals in the EU and Microsoft is committed to contribute to the initiative and help reach the goals of the European Skills Agenda. These steps are part of concerted efforts to respond to the needs of the cybersecurity job market in Europe and increase the continent’s cyber defense. The European Year of Skills, which kicks off on May 9, will provide additional opportunities for coordination and focusing our collective efforts on closing the cybersecurity talent gap.
In a recent blog Kate Behncken, Vice President and Lead of Microsoft Philanthropies, makes clear that a wide range of initiatives are required to protect against cyberattacks: “We know we can’t solve this problem ourselves. This problem is too large and too urgent. We need governments, the private sector, and education sector working together to solve it. We need all hands on deck – around the world – to protect people from escalating cybercriminal activity.”
Tags: cybersecurity, Digital skills, Diversity