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Bootcamps should become a staple of the national skills fund

Digital skills such as cybersecurity are more important than ever, and bootcamps are a good delivery model, writes Caroline Fox

In addition to reporting the tragic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the ground, the media regularly reports stories of a propaganda war waged in cyberspace.

Teams of IT experts are trying to circumvent state-controlled outlets to explain to the Russian people what is really going on.

Meanwhile, away from the war zone, governments, businesses and educational institutions around the world have been examining the security of their own computer systems in case they are the target of cyberattacks from Russia.

Of course, cyberattacks from Russia are nothing new (GCHQ reported that ransomware incidents in the UK doubled in 2021). But the war has shown how vital it is for us to protect our essential public services, of which computer networks are a part.

It is therefore particularly important that the government and the municipal authorities together have made digital skills a key priority in the skills bootcamps.

As a delivery partner of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), we run programs for cybersecurity analysts as part of our digital bootcamp offering.

As the name suggests, bootcamps are by definition short (up to 16 weeks), so no one can become a cybersecurity expert overnight by attending one of these courses. A credible degree of basic computer knowledge from previous learning is required.

Nevertheless, within days, the learner can acquire new skills and knowledge to help increase an organization’s ability to protect its own or a customer’s cybersecurity.

This is where the reforms in last year’s skills white paper represent a real step forward in equipping the country with the skills it needs for the economy to grow.

Bootcamps should be better aligned with other programs like Restart

It is heartening to see the government recognizing through bootcamps that learners can supplement their existing skills in ways that are directly relevant to the rapidly changing needs of employers.

In this sense, bootcamps are a solution to address the ongoing challenge of post-16 education of providing clear paths to progression.

Another major advantage of bootcamps is that their content can be updated. In many areas, such as ICT, the speed of technological change can be very rapid. This means that by the time a student has completed a mid-term study program for two years, new priority areas may have emerged. Bootcamps can fill this knowledge gap.

Partnership is a recurring theme in higher and further education reforms, and bootcamps indicate a complementary delivery model obtained from the combination of FE colleges and bootcamps delivered by independent training providers.

The latter can also rely on the ITP’s strength of good employer engagement.

When it comes to the Wave 3 expansion of bootcamps announced by the DfE in January, the design of the latest supply has been the subject of some real thought and imagination. This includes “tailor-made” tendering for digital.

But there is still room for improvement. For example, bootcamps should be better aligned with other programs, such as Restart, the job support program for Universal Credit Seekers. For now, learners who have registered for a bootcamp can still be directed to a complementary program, which then takes priority.

Unfortunately, this can disrupt a learner’s progress towards securing positive employment.

Suppliers have also been troubled by the plethora of national and decentralized supplies for bootcamps. The DfE’s announcement of a dynamic purchasing system (DPS) will reduce the number of tenders, but a DPS relies on suppliers keeping capacity in place with no guarantee of future funding.

Nonetheless, the case is growing to make bootcamps a must-have part of the national skills fund.

We can see on the international stage how important cybersecurity skills are for every nation. Here in the West Midlands, bootcamps have become one of the most sought after methods of acquiring the additional skills required.

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