Since its launch in 2017, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has seen interest and demand for its National Progression Awards (NPA) in Cyber Security, at SCQF levels 4 to 6, skyrocket.

And according to Alistair Wylie, Head of Qualifications – Technology, Engineering, and Construction at SQA, it is easy to see why the course has struck a chord with schools, and colleges keen to offer young people the chance to hone valuable digital skills.

“We’re talking about a topic that is of fundamental importance. It impacts on every single person,” he said. “The demand for skilled individuals who are able to share knowledge and experience of cyber security, and add value to potential future employers is huge.”

Last year, the number of young people achieving a NPA in Cyber Security grew by over 40%, and already this year there are over 1,000 candidates studying the course in schools and colleges across the country.

Bobby Elliott, Qualifications Manager at SQA, said the appeal of the NPA is the nature of the topics taught. “No other school-level course offers candidates the chance to take on these topics – Data Security, Digital Forensics, and Ethical Hacking – or opens candidates up to the opportunities that could be available to them,” he said.

Read about the SQA’s cyber security qualifications in FutureScot Magazine in The Times Scotland: Download PDF.

Scott Hunter was part of the team that developed the NPA, and has seen first-hand how young people have benefitted from undertaking the course. Scott, Principal Teacher of Computing at Kyle Academy in Ayr, said: “Two pupils from my first class to complete the course have since gone on to university to study Ethical Hacking. Without the NPA giving them an insight into that world, I suspect those pupils wouldn’t be where they are now.”

Scott added: “The course provides fantastic opportunities for young people to develop their problem solving skills. We worked with Developing the Young Work Force Ayrshire, Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce, and the Prince’s Trust to identify local start-ups who could benefit from receiving advice about how to protect their businesses from online threats.

“In October, the pupils delivered workshops to the start-ups advising them on a number of issues including how to manage their own and their customers’ data, how to write a firewall, and how to manage their digital footprint.”

Scott said: “The students have also worked with pupils at our local primary schools to talk to the children there about Internet safety. The students are adding vital soft-skills to their bank of knowledge and experience, adding value to their learning.”

Digital skills expert Donald McLaughlin will be speaking at FutureScot’s Digital Scotland Conference in Glasgow on 30 May.

The data has shown strong support for cybersecurity as a dedicated subject but how is SQA planning to expand on its success in delivering comprehensive courses for young people in this field?

Elliot added: “We now have fantastic off-the-shelf learning, and teaching resources available to schools and colleges, meaning the course is now easier to deliver, thanks to special funding from the Scottish Government’s Cyber Resilience Strategy for Scotland. We also launched the Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Cyber Security, meaning the programme is now gearing towards getting candidates ready to access the work place.

“Currently three colleges – West College Scotland, City of Glasgow, and Fife – are delivering the programme, and we’re busy finalising the Higher National Diploma (HND) and hope to have it available in August this year.

“Once the HND is available, we’ll have opened up routes into employment within the cyber security sector that was traditionally only available to those who had completed degree level computing programmes.”

SQA is also working on a Professional Development Award in Cyber Security at SCQF levels 7, 8, and  9, which will help those already in relevant employment broaden their skills, or even help them make the transition into a new career. Available during 2020, the Professional Development Award will be the latest step in widening access to careers and learning opportunities within cyber security.

Wylie said: “By expanding our suite of cyber security qualifications, we are helping to address the well-publicised skills shortages within the sector. We’ve worked with leading academics, employers, and industry specialists at every stage of each qualification’s development to make sure the skills, knowledge, and experiences candidates acquire are credible, relevant, and valuable.

“By doing so, we are meeting our responsibilities to provide schools, colleges, employers and training providers – and thereby candidates at all levels – with the opportunities to succeed within this exciting and growing sector.”