Thales Blog

World Youth Skills Day 2023: Engaging Youth with Cybersecurity

July 13, 2023

Liz Kelly Liz Kelly | Social Program Manager More About This Author >

In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly declared 15 July as World Youth Skills Day to celebrate the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work, and entrepreneurship. “Young people are drivers of change and must be fully engaged in decisions affecting their future,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

World Youth Skills Day 2023 theme is Skilling Teachers, Trainers, and Youth for a Transformative Future. It highlights the essential role of teachers, trainers, and other educators in providing skills for youth to transition to the labor market and actively engage in their communities and societies. Technological advancements and shifting labor market dynamics increasingly require agile and adaptable skill sets. We must empower young people to navigate these changes effectively.

The cybersecurity skills shortage

This year’s theme couldn’t be a better match for engaging young people with cybersecurity. Cybercrime is one of the most challenging issues today, and cyberattacks have affected the operations of governments, businesses, and individuals. Cyberattacks impact people in various ways. For example, Colonial Pipeline was forced to go offline due to a cyberattack, which caused a severe short-term gas shortage in multiple states and impacted the lives of millions of people.

Technology companies are investing in cybersecurity monetarily and technically. Following the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, the White House in the US issued an executive order to prioritize technology security across the country. However, the country experiences a severe shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals due to a lack of graduates with STEM degrees.

Furthermore, the STEM workforce shortage is partly caused by the persistent underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in STEM education and careers. For instance, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women currently represent only 18% of the cybersecurity workforce, and less than 12% of cybersecurity professionals are African American.

The situation is similar in the European Union. The EU urgently needs professionals with the skills and competencies to prevent, detect, deter, and defend the EU against cyberattacks. In 2022, the cybersecurity talent gap in the EU ranged between 260,000 and 500,000 professionals, while the EU’s cybersecurity workforce needs were estimated at 883,000 professionals. In addition, women only comprised 20% of cybersecurity graduates and 19% of information and communications technology specialists.

Engaging pupils in cybersecurity

Even though many efforts are being made to develop the cybersecurity workforce, more needs to be done to reach out to younger audiences and engage students in elementary grades. This is when children start participating in cyber and digital activities and develop disciplinary preferences and career aspirations. The following statistics highlight the need to reach out to kids:

  • 73% of teenagers can’t imagine life without a smartphone, and half take their phones to bed.
  • 44% of kids aged 8 to 16 are online constantly, preferring entertainment and social media apps.
  • 37% of kids have experienced online dangers, including bullying, financial threats, and inappropriate content.

All children possess unique qualities and preferences. Each seeks different things from their online interaction and responds to danger in their own way. While there's no one-size-fits-all approach to discussing online safety with children, parents, and educators can still effectively communicate with them. The digital realm doesn't have to be a frightening place for children or their caregivers. Rather than being consumed by worry, we should focus on imparting the necessary skills to help youngsters stay safe and secure online.

Recent research has demonstrated that children aged 8-9 can understand and master cryptology and cybersecurity concepts and skills by engaging with a curriculum that promotes the cognitive development of knowledge around these topics. Researchers also found that the students started becoming aware of the related professions. Girls were especially inspired by female cryptology and cybersecurity role models integrated into the curriculum.

Engaging students in cybersecurity

Even if a young person doesn't have a university degree in cybersecurity, they can still pursue a career in this domain. Businesses are in dire need of cybersecurity professionals. The 2022 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) notes that “strengthening cybersecurity” has become “even more relevant.”

The problem of "cyber poverty" is of great concern to policymakers and industry professionals. With a shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals, only big corporations can afford to have cyber teams, leaving smaller companies facing the challenge of needing more resources for cybersecurity training.

Institutions and organizations have launched initiatives to engage youth in cybersecurity to address this critical issue. For example, the EU launched the Cybersecurity Skills Academy to close the cybersecurity sector’s ongoing skills shortage and develop the EU’s cyber resilience. The Cybersecurity Skills Academy is part of the 2023 European Year of Skills, an initiative to promote the upskilling and reskilling of the workforce with the view of helping workers and companies keep up with the green and digital transitions.

Under its existing Google Career Certificates initiative, Google has added a new certification program to train a new generation of cybersecurity professionals. The new Google Cybersecurity Certificate program will offer affordable, accessible information security training on identifying and mitigating threats and hands-on experience with tools including Python, Linux, and Security Information and Event Management Systems (SIEM).

(ISC)2, as part of their commitment to helping close the cybersecurity workforce gap, offer the free Certified in Cybersecurity (CC) online self-paced training and exams to the first million people entering the field for the first time.

Just like other cybersecurity and privacy celebrations, World Youth Skills Day won’t solve the skills gap problem. However, it is a good reminder that we must work harder to address this crucial problem and safeguard our society from emerging and evolving cyber threats.