Grant scheme launched to encourage people with ‘neurodiverse’ conditions to develop cybersecurity skills

A nationwide £150,000 grant scheme has been launched to encourage people with neurodiverse conditions such as autism to develop skills in cybersecurity.

National skills agency Skills Development Scotland has provided grants to Edinburgh Napier University, Inverness College UHI, West Lothian College and Perth Autism Support to start new education programmes for people with such conditions.

The MASCOTS project, which follows a successful pilot programme, will see Edinburgh Napier’s School of Computing support neurodiverse learners as part of a drive to combat the global surge in cybersecurity threats.

Neurodivergence, where the brain functions, learns and processes information in different ways, includes Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

By offering supportive learning environments and industry mentorship, the University programme aims to nurture talent and equip neurodiverse learners with the skills to help satisfy the mounting demand for people who can identify and thwart the next generation of cyber criminals.

MASCOTS, which stands for Mentoring; Articulation; Supporting; Careers; Opportunities; Taster; and Sustainment, will provide real industry skills for 16 people recruited to the course through the Into Work charity.

The eight-day programme over four weeks in November and December will combine online and classroom teaching, followed by a careers event in January which will introduce the learners to employers.

The core Edinburgh Napier team are Professor Bill Buchanan, from the School of Computing, Basil Manoussos (The Cyber Academy Manager) and Matt Burdge (Business Development Manager).

Professor Buchanan said: “A more diverse and inclusive world allows every single person to achieve their full potential. We are all different and all wonderful in our own ways. Being different is good, and brings forth new ideas and new viewpoints. We spend too much of our lives trying to be normal, but there’s really no such thing as normality.”

Basil Manoussos added: “A core part of the work is the creation of a mentorship scheme. We aim to provide one-to-one support, and focus those with neurodiverse conditions on understanding how they can match themselves to the jobs market, and on developing their career, and we are keen for those in industry to come and help support our candidates.”

Matt highlighted the need for a strong industry network. He said: “Edinburgh Napier is a leader in cybersecurity education with NCSC (National Cybersecurity Centre) certification for both its undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, and is developing a network throughout Scotland and beyond to ensure all learners have a suitable pathway to education and future careers in the industry.”

Claire Gillespie, Digital Technologies Skills Manager at Skills Development Scotland, concluded: “With more than 13,000 job opportunities waiting to be filled in the tech sector, we need to look at as many different ways as possible to plug that skills gap. By ensuring neurodivergent people are given all the support they can get in education, which this funding aims to achieve, we will be able to help them as individuals while also building cybersecurity capacity in the tech talent pipeline.”