Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen

Learning to combat cybercrime

A new college dedicated to cyber security has opened its doors at Durham Tees Valley Airport to help businesses deal with the ever-increasing threat of cyber-attacks, as BQ’s Bryce Wilcock finds out.

Businesses across the UK are being targeted by cyber criminals every day and the scale and size of the threat is continuing to grow. In fact, newly-released statistics by the UK Government found nearly half of all UK businesses have suffered a cyber breach or attack in the past 12 months.

The Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2017 also shows that businesses holding electronic personal data on customers were much more likely to suffer cyber breaches than those that do not: 51% compared to 37%.

These ever-increasing threats have made cyber security one of the world’s fastest growing industries and businesses of all shapes and sizes are now looking at how they can protect themselves from online criminals.

Capitalising on this demand for cyber security expertise is the new state of the art Tees Valley Cyber College, which recently opened its doors at Durham Tees Valley Airport offering training, apprenticeships and business support in cyber security.

The college is the brainchild of Andrew Bowen, chief executive of Bowen Consulting. The company already provides support to a number of training and apprenticeship centres across the North of England in niche sectors encompassing IT infrastructure, digital marketing and data analysis and this new investment by Bowen Consulting marks another milestone for the region.

Bowen says: “Many businesses within the region are unsure about how exactly they should tackle certain threats and are further concerned that their business and its systems and suppliers may be vulnerable to attacks.

“The Cyber College is here to benefit both small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large companies within digital education, cyber security and ultimately provide real time and tangible methods of protecting businesses, especially considering the imminent new general data protection regulations (GDPR).”

As it is a relatively new sector, there is a huge lack of cyber security talent in the region and forward-thinking businesses have been quick to snap up the best talent. The draw of London and tech hubs in Manchester and Leeds have also lured many away from the area.

However, with the uncertainty of Brexit and with digital transformation now being a matter of do or die, the only sensible solution is to turn to home grown talent. This is where the new cyber college is hoping to make a difference, with its unique cyber security apprenticeships and training programmes.

College director Tracy McNicholas explains: “The college is not being set up just to benefit companies within the digital technology sector; practically every business within our region has some element of digital infrastructure, whether that is processing orders, holding customer and supplier data or their machinery may be controlled electronically.

“We feel that every business needs to embrace the potential short falls in skills within their business and address them as soon as possible. With the new evolution of the apprenticeship standards from level 2 up to degree level, at no cost to the individual, we feel that, as an alternative to taking the degree route, apprentices will play a pivotal role by gaining the correct skills and experience to help grow our region’s businesses.

“New apprentices have been brought up in the digital age and as such see cyber security as an extension of their digital world and can see how it fits into every business no matter how big or small.”

Bowen adds: “For many businesses, they don’t know where to start with ensuring their company is safe and future proof. The cyber college is set up to discuss their potential needs, offer practical steps and set out easy to manage business plans to assist in protecting the business.

“Additionally, when it comes to business insurance against potential cyber threats, a question frequently asked is, ‘does your company meet its obligations, not only to itself, but also to its customers and its supply chain?’”

This year’s intake will see the creation of more than 100 apprentice positions comprising a level three foundation year in IT infrastructure and cyber essentials, moving onto a level four cyber security intrusion analyst.

McNicholas concludes: “Our ultimate goal is to be the UK’s leading cyber college and be seen as the Bletchley Park of the North. Our plans are to continue supporting SMEs and large regional and national businesses.

“We are focused on an offering to support public services including the police, NHS and local authorities. Plans are also in place to set up regional cyber colleges across the UK. In addition to our flagship college at Tees Valley Airport, we will soon be opening cyber colleges in Manchester and London.