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From coal mines to cyber: How Welsh industry is shifting towards the frontline of cyber defence

Across Wales there are a growing number of initiatives to develop cyber talent (Alamy)

4 min read

In the face of increasingly unstable geopolitics and rapidly evolving technological change, the threat from global cyber-attacks is growing. Zoe Crowther reports on how politicians hope Wales will be on the frontline to defend against it.

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) security and defence think tank published a report this year which identified a worldwide shortage of cyber security personnel and suggested the United Kingdom should step up to become a “world leader” in filling these gaps. 

Government initiatives show that leaders believe Wales could be central to the UK in fulfilling this role. 

In May, the Welsh government launched its Cyber Action Plan, aiming to grow Wales’ cyber ecosystem, develop talent and protect public services from cyber threats. As part of this plan, Cardiff University has launched a government-funded Cyber Innovation Hub (CIH) with a mission to “transform Cardiff Capital Region into one of the UK’s leading cyber clusters by 2030”. 

Around 46 cyber-related businesses are registered in Wales, employing four per cent of all UK cyber security professionals. CIH hopes to grow the number of cyber companies in Wales by 50 per cent, upskill 1,500 people with technical skills, and provide well-paid jobs for locals.  

Following the launch of the project, director of CIH Professor Pete Burnap said: “CIH has the opportunity to really accelerate the growth of the cyber sector in South Wales.” 

And it’s not only in Cardiff where Welsh politicians see potential for people to get involved in cyber security. In Blaenau Gwent in south Wales – the most deprived constituency in Wales according to the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation – Labour MP Nick Smith helped to set up a cyber hub in a college last year to train young people for the cyber security industry. His constituency has since received attention from global technology firms looking to expand and diversify talent. 

“You’ve always got to have a wide industrial base and a range of sectors; you can’t rely on two or three things anymore”

In an email shared with The House, Google UK wrote to Smith about their new cyber security training programme to launch later this year, which will provide a low-cost and accessible way to gain entry-level cyber skills and fill the shortage of professionals working in the area. 

“Given the importance of cyber in your constituency, we thought this would be of interest to you,” the Google representative wrote. 

Google cited research that shows a lack of cyber security personnel is particularly problematic for small and medium-sized companies and outlined its plans to build a “diverse cyber security talent pipeline in the sector”. 

The MP for Blaenau Gwent believes that developing cyber security talent in Wales is not only beneficial for local employment but can also benefit the sector. “Diversity helps,” he tells The House. “In large organisations, actually having a diversity of people from different backgrounds helps with governance and decision-making, with scrutiny and challenge.” 

Wales used to be famous for its coal mining industry and was home to the two largest coal ports in the world – Barry and Cardiff – but the country was left devastated after the closure of nearly all its coal mines by the end of the 20th century, leading to deprivation and unemployment in many former mining towns. 

“We’ve been through a tough 40 years, so we’re always looking to grow our industrial base,” Smith says. 

While he says there is a temptation to “talk up” Wales’s coal and steel history, Smith believes there are also lessons to be learned from the decline of those industries: “At the same time, we realise that we were reliant on those two sectors and when they went, it took a long time for those parts of the country to be restructured. 

“You’ve always got to have a wide industrial base and a range of sectors; you can’t rely on two or three things anymore. It’s not particularly novel thinking on my part, it’s just a recognition that you’ve got to invest in the future.”

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