Dr Fazal Dad, Lt Gen Tom Copinger-Symes, Kerry Harrison, Lt Cdr Richard Sawyer and students from Blackburn College studying (Hons) Networking and Cyber Security.

Deputy Commander Strategic Command outlines exciting digital and cyber careers future for Lancashire’s students

The Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub and Blackburn College welcomed Lieutenant General Tom Copinger-Symes CBE, Deputy Commander Strategic Command, to the town centre campus on Thursday 2 March.

Lt Gen Copinger-Symes met with Blackburn College students studying Digital, Cyber and Computing Courses, as well as Law. He introduced the role of Strategic Command and talked about the National Cyber Force and the UK’s role as responsible cyber power.

In his speech to students, he spoke about the vast range of roles on offer in digital and cyber-defence as the threats to national security become increasingly complex, and the rapid development of technology leads to new challenges in cyberspace and the information environment. He highlighted the need for people with technical skills, but also the need for problem solvers who could bring a range of perspectives to difficult challenges.

He said that the network of brilliant educational institutions across the country, such as Blackburn College – which has recently invested £1.2m into dedicated cyber skills training facilities – are key to creating a digital-first workforce and equipping future generations with the skills needed to keep the UK safe.

The National Cyber Force (NCF) is a Ministry of Defence and GCHQ partnership that conducts cyber operations to protect the UK. The NCF relocation to Samlesbury – just a few miles from the College – will be an exciting opportunity to help grow technology, digital and defence sectors, and encourage partnerships between Government, industry and education in the region.

NCF is working closely with local partners to ensure its successful establishment at the heart of the North West Cyber Corridor. These relationships are key to identifying and building clear pathways for future career opportunities.

Lt Gen Copinger-Symes said: “It was a great pleasure to meet students at Blackburn College and hear about the amazing work they’re doing to improve their digital and cyber skills. There was a real buzz and energy around the College.

“I thoroughly enjoyed answering their questions, hearing what excited them and learning about the broad range of courses on offer. 

“I came away with a huge sense of optimism about the talented students, both young and old, who are eager to bring their skills to the exciting career opportunities in Lancashire. 

“With the National Cyber Force moving to Samlesbury, we have a unique opportunity to make a real difference to how we protect our nation and help it thrive.”

Lt Gen Copinger-Symes, along with colleagues from the NCF, also met with partners from the Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub – which supports the work of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Lancashire’s Local Authorities – the LEP, Lancashire County Council, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and the College, to discuss Lancashire’s collaborative approach to growing and accelerating a local digital talent pipeline.

To facilitate this, the Lancashire Skills and Employments Hub is leading on a ‘People and Skills’ working group, established by the Lancashire Cyber Partnership, with the NCF and other partners to bring together representatives from schools, colleges and universities, cadet programmes, the Lancashire Careers Hub, and the Digital Skills Partnership and ensure that local residents and graduates are able to compete for opportunities aligned with NCF, and other local businesses requiring similar skills.

Kerry Harrison, who leads the Digital Skills Partnership for Lancashire said: ”Lancashire has a real superpower when it comes to collaboration. Together we are raising awareness of job opportunities through inspirational activities with schools and colleges, and are enabling the development of relevant skills throughout the educational journey. Lancashire also has a programme of Skills Bootcamps which enable adults to fast track into digital and cyber roles.  The combined approach aims to inspire and attract a more diverse workforce.”

Dr Fazal Dad, Principal and Chief Executive of Blackburn College, added: “Blackburn with Darwen is home to a very diverse and talented community who are hungry for the many opportunities on offer.

“Blackburn College is only a few miles from where the NCF will be based. We see our role as an educator in the wider ecosystem as extremely important, which is why we have invested £1.2 million into this area through new cyber training facilities, including a training lab and course provisions to ensure we are providing our students with the skills they need for the future.

“Digitalisation touches upon every industry, and the College is embedding a digital element across all of our qualifications.

“We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Lt Gen Copinger-Symes, the Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub and all partners for the visit.”

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