GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is launching its CyberFirst Schools initiative in the North West for the first time with innovation hub HOST, operated by IN4 Group

NW Cyber Corridor boosted by further investment with HOST piloting NCSC’s CyberFirst Schools in the North West

Innovation hub HOST, the Home of Skills & Technology in MediaCity, has been appointed as the North West delivery partner for a pilot of CyberFirst Schools, run by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), to champion cyber education in the region’s North West Cyber Corridor.

Through its flagship Skills City operation, HOST will deliver the CyberFirst Schools pilot over a one-year period to over 500 schools and colleges from across the North West to inspire more young people to explore careers in cyber security.

The collaboration will further increase fair access to technology careers, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and underrepresented groups, including girls and young women. Female representation in the sector is considerably low, with women accounting for just 22 per cent of the UK’s cyber workforce.

HOST, operated by Preston-based IN4 Group, will draw on its extensive local and national employer network to help facilitate engagement between industry and schools in the region. This will enable more young people to access opportunities, such as mentoring and work experience, outside the classroom and in the growing technology sector.

It will be working with leading industry and regional academic partners including BAE Systems, Raytheon, Siemens, AWS, University of Central Lancashire and University of Salford, to drive further investment into schools and future-proof technology talent.

The contract follows HOST’s successful delivery of three rounds of GCHQ’s Innovation Co-Lab – a programme which aimed to find innovative start-ups and small to medium-sized businesses in the North West. Successful companies took part in a 12-week programme to work with GCHQ technologists and industry experts to improve their products. HOST also held the first North West Cyber Summit in March to support the building of the Cyber Corridor.

The CyberFirst Schools initiative recognises schools and colleges across the UK that are committed to encouraging young people to develop cyber skills, with the NCSC awarding them with a gold, silver or bronze status.

Since the initiative was launched in 2020, 49 CyberFirst schools and colleges have been recognised, helping to develop cyber skills ecosystems around the country and addressing the industry’s cyber skills gap.

The 2022 CyberFirst Girls Competition final was also held at HOST in Salford and was focused on inspiring girls aged 12 to 13 to consider pursuing careers in cyber security.

Mo Isap, CEO of IN4 Group, said: “Being Blackburn born and bred, it’s fantastic to see these great prospects for Lancashire as well as Greater Manchester, and now we have a significant opportunity to inspire future generations into technology careers with the CyberFirst programme. This will have a huge impact on young people across the region, who are currently living in places like Salford, Accrington and Blackpool. The bringing together of education, skills, technology and industry is the key enabler to creating prosperity in the region.

“With the UK government’s investment of more than £5 billion into its new National Cyber Force in Samlesbury, Lancashire, the region is leading the way to establish further innovation and skills as part of the emerging North West Cyber Corridor.

Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Cyber Growth, said: “The NCSC is committed to providing young people with opportunities to excel in cyber security, and our work with industry plays a vital role in this.

“We are pleased that HOST will be piloting our CyberFirst Schools initiative in the North West on our behalf and welcome their support in developing the region’s cyber skills ecosystem.”

The CyberFirst programme offers a range of free opportunities aimed at providing young people the skills, opportunities and exposure they need to thrive in cyber security.

More information about CyberFirst opportunities in the North West can be found on the HOST website.


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