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This weekend, Barclays and Cabinet Office-backed security initiative Cyber Security Challenge UK, hosted an immersive competition to test the skills of thirty cyber enthusiasts. The competition required contestants to adopt the role of interns at a fictitious cyber security firm, who had to defend their company from a cyber-attack, triggered by an insider, all while their superiors were on a team-building canoeing adventure.

The competition is the last of 2017’s Cyber Security Challenge UK face-to-face competitions to unearth the UK’s hidden cyber talent and place these individuals in public and private sector cyber security roles to fill the critical cyber security skills gap. Not only does cyber security offer an exciting and varied career, but a lucrative one too – with roles averaging over £60,000 per year after training.

The competition took place in national heritage site and grand country house, Radbroke Hall, which is also the current site of Barclays’ Technology Centre. In the scenario, the ‘interns’, who were staffing a fictitious security firm called ‘Research4U’, had to spring into action after a hacking group launched a large-scale cyber-attack on the company, stealing confidential technology, source code and client data. The story saw hackers demand a ransom of £10m to prevent releasing the data to the press.

Competitors had to infiltrate and stop the fictional hacker group in order to destroy the leaked information before it could be released to the ‘press’. Leading cyber specialists from Barclays and other leading industry organisations assessed the contestants on their vulnerability assessment, reconnaissance, attack strategies and espionage skills in order to rank their performance and suitability for careers in the industry.

The winning team was team Wormhole: Carolyn Yates, Isabel Whistlecroft, Kajusz Dykiel, Peter Campbell and Waldo Woch.

The eightcontestants that have qualified for next month’s Masterclass grand finale were: Cameron Howes, Asher Caswell, Tom Brook, Vlad Ellis, Mohammed Rahman, David Young, Rajiv Shah and Isabel Whistlecroft. They will join the previous F2F winners from earlier in the year at Masterclass where they will compete against each other and have the opportunity to network with industry experts, in addition to winning career-enhancing prizes including degree scholarships, training courses, technology and gadgets and industry memberships.

The competition mirrors recent high profile attacks, such as WannaCry, where hackers held organisations to ransom across the globe. With the Public Accounts Committee revealing earlier this year that the Government’s ability to protect Britain from high-level cyber-attacks is undermined by a skills shortage, the need to find individuals with cyber skills has never been greater.

Troels Oerting, Barclays Group Chief Security Officer (CSO) and Group Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) said: “The best way to learn about cyber security is to engage in realistic scenarios, such as the competition that we’ve just hosted. Saturday’s event created a scenario that really tested a candidate’s ability to perform under pressure, think strategically, work as a team and display leadership skills. A career in cyber security requires various skills, including the ability to second-guess hackers and make critical decisions quickly. It was very encouraging to see students so immersed in solving the challenge we set them, and I wish all the candidates the very best in their careers.”

Nigel Harrison, acting Chief Executive of Cyber Security Challenge UK said: “This year’s scenarios have been varied in nature in order to demonstrate the range of cyber threats that this nation faces as well as the sheer breadth of sectors that need cyber security professionals – from banking and finance, to automotive and even retail. Sponsors, like Barclays make this possible and, in turn, help to open the door to dozens more careers. I would like to encourage any budding cyber security specialist, or ‘white hat hackers’, to consider applying for our competitions. The nation faces a growing cyber security threat, so we are in real need of talent that can keep organisations, and the public, secure. Why not Challenge Yourself today?”

(Source: Cyber Security Challenge UK)

HR leaders in UK financial services firms are finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Here, Steve Girdler, Managing Director EMEA at HireRight, looks at the future of FS firms in the UK and discusses the issue of skill shortage and migration of business.

On the one hand, the financial services (FS) sector is heavily reliant on the skills, diverse experience and local knowledge of the European workers who help make London a thriving international financial centre – a talent pool that’s at serious risk of drying up post-Brexit.

On the other hand, London’s historic advantages, which extend beyond its access to talent – factors like specialised infrastructure and even its geographical position between mainland Europe and the US – make it very hard for firms to conceive of a finance hub anywhere else in the continent that could rival the City, at least in the short term.

It is now a delicate balancing act, as firms look at hedging their bets to safeguard themselves against the potential risks of leaving the EU, while also keeping one foot firmly in the UK. With the challenge very much at the feet of HR departments, the approach taken over the months ahead will not only help to define what the future looks like but also determine how successfully and profitably their firms navigate through it.

Navigating the storm

Recent research from Deloitte shows that 47% of highly skilled UK workers – the lifeblood of the financial sector in London – are planning to quit the UK in the wake of Brexit. Inevitably, being highly skilled also means being highly sought after and these workers are not short of options if their future in the UK exceeds their appetite for risk and uncertainty.

But amid the storm clouds gathering over the City, there remain a few rays of sunshine. A recent study we conducted among over 2,500 HR leads around the world found that in the UK’s financial services sector, optimism remains. Almost two thirds (63%) of HR teams within UK FS firms expect their workforce to grow in the coming year. In contrast, only 4% are even discussing stopping recruitment in the UK in reaction to Brexit.

How not to gamble on the future

However, hiring in the UK will inevitably become more complicated as the government starts to dig into the specifics around which regulations to hold onto and which to scrap. This will be needed to keep us suitably in line with best practice on the continent, and identify what is likely to be tweaked to give the UK greater global appeal. These aren’t questions that it’s wise or even safe to try to assume answers to, because getting it wrong could prove costly.

Instead, a lot of companies are taking a middle approach, by trying to walk the line between cost efficiencies and covering all eventualities. A good example is the increase in UK FS giants opening up satellite units with head office potential in places like Frankfurt. In the current regulatory environment, it can take as long as two years to get an office fully functional in some European markets, so waiting to see what happens isn’t an option. If the UK becomes less hospitable, the escape route has been readied. If not, then the loss is limited to the short term maintenance of an additional office. Expensive, but not a disaster.

For HR teams the challenge is even more complicated. Reining in hiring of European workers may seem like the safe option to offset risk, but doing so en masse would bottom out the jobs market and speed up the exit of those talented foreign nationals. On the other hand, leaving themselves too reliant on the skills of non-UK workers comes with its own risks, especially if any form of “hard Brexit” becomes a reality.

No margin for error

One thing that’s immediately apparent is that any hires that are made need to be as risk free as possible, which means two things: trusting a candidate’s credentials – their ability to do the job honestly, fairly and diligently – and remaining compliant whatever the situation.

This calls for a high level of due diligence to be performed on all significant hires, or indeed anyone with access to sensitive information. Whichever way the regulation goes, backtracking from the recent Senior Managers Regime, where all senior staff must be thoroughly vetted, seems unlikely.

However, compliance with the FCA is only part of the picture. With budgets stretched by policies trying to offset risk, and growth restrained by uncertainty, a costly reputational scandal becomes an even greater concern, even if it’s not accompanied by a hefty fine.

A fork in the road

It’s going to be difficult for firms to know what the best course of action is with so much uncertainty ahead and no obvious stability on the radar. To come out the other side in the best shape, they need to forecast ahead to the regulatory landscape over the next few years.

But whether the UK develops its own unique position as a regulatory pioneer – as has been the case within the EU – or whether it aims to make itself more competitive by relaxing regulations, maintaining security precautions around the individuals at the top is one thing that’s almost guaranteed. Removing these measures would directly make banks more susceptible to malpractice, scandal and fraud, at a time when the UK is more worried than ever about its international reputation as a “strong and stable” finance hub.

The UK’s tech growth over the last decade has been phenomenal, and this very much thanks to technology startups and increased expansion of innovate firms. However, in the midst of uncertainty and instability, expansion is often being pushed to foreign soils, mostly due to a lack of the right people. This week we heard from Adam Hale, CEO of Fairsail, on the role that the UK must continue to play as a global tech hub and the skills crisis that could stand in the way of this.

The unique value of our tech industry comes from the large number of digital businesses starting up and scaling globally out of the UK market. Just look at the hotbeds of innovation in Tech City, Silicon Fen or the Thames Valley areas. To fuel that innovation, and the growth it powers, acquiring the right talent is a pre-requisite. However, despite having the necessary funding and bright ideas, recruiting people with the right technology skills can often being the biggest barrier to global expansion for companies looking to scale up. It’s a barrier we’ve come up against time and time again.

As the CEO of Fairsail, the UK’s fastest growth technology scale up, head-quartered in Reading but with offices and customers around the world, the current skills crisis makes it difficult for us to keep software development in our home market. The skills crisis means that, for companies like us, exports are hampered because we can’t get enough technical skills to keep up the development and innovation that our global market is demanding. Without the right people with the right skills, scale ups are being forced to move development offshore. And without a solid strategy to reverse the skills crisis, the UK tech economy risks losing its momentum. So what can we do?

To start with, there needs to be more recognition of technology as an important part of the UK economy, and government strategy must reflect the real demand for digital skills. Radical action to address the systemic flaws in our education system is at the heart of this. Recent announcements by the government do show improvement in its efforts to address the skills gap, most notably the creation of ‘T-Levels’ announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Budget that will provide 16-18 year olds with vocational technical education to the same level as their academic equivalent – A Levels. However, digital is only one of 15 different technical routes to choose from. So, while £500m investment in skills may be a headline grabbing figure, in reality, it boils down to an insufficient concentration on where we need to radically improve skills – in IT.

Much greater investment is also needed to improve teaching and present the technology industry as an attractive career choice from a young age. Currently, the supply of technical school leavers/graduates is pitiful and does not come close to fulfilling demand. In 2016, only 5,600 students studied Computer Science at A-Level in 2016, and a meagre 600 of these were female. To really change perceptions and address the gender-imbalance in the industry, the government needs to impose increased primary and secondary education focus on tech and STEM. If we are to meet the nation’s demand, we should be aiming for a tenfold increase of students studying computer science over the next five years, with females making up at least 30%.

I have a passionate belief in the UK’s ability to grow and develop world leading businesses; however, as UK-born companies pursue growth, they have no choice but to look further afield in the search for the talent they need to meet their customers’ demands. Only by getting young people interested in and studying technology subjects will we avert this crisis, and cement the UK’s rightful position as a future global tech hub.

A year ago, few chief executives could have predicted the turbulent global environment their organizations would face at the start of 2017. Mushrooming geopolitical and social tensions, policy flux, financial market volatility, and labour market imbalances have coalesced in a level of business uncertainty unseen since the end of the Great Recession in 2010. At the same time, new opportunities for sustained growth and competitive advantage are opening in many regions and sectors. How are CEOs positioning their companies to succeed through the world of shocks, uncertainties, and disruptions likely in the coming year?

It all starts with their people. According to CEO Challenge 2017, a global survey and report released today by The Conference Board, business leaders worldwide are focused on creating more agile, aligned, transparent, and responsive companies able to weather the storm of internal and external uncertainties. More than 500 chief executives participated in this year's survey. Their responses revealed a set of common organizational priorities shared across industries and geographies, including: fiscal discipline, an engaged and resilient workforce, strong and inclusive leadership, and the need to develop and nurture talent with expanded twenty-first century skills.

"In the eyes of this year's CEO Challenge respondents, organizational culture and quality talent are the critical enablers of success," said Rebecca Ray, Ph.D., a co-author of the report and Executive Vice President, Knowledge Organization at The Conference Board. "CEOs are clearly awakening to the dangers of static processes, rigid roles, and outmoded thinking at a time when their most pressing challenges all demand leaders and workforces committed to openness, innovation, and agility."

"Despite the rapid technological advances of the past decade, real productivity gains from this era of digital transformation have yet to emerge," said Bart van Ark, Ph.D., another report co-author and Executive Vice President, Chief Economist & Strategy Officer at The Conference Board. "This year, we're seeing CEOs respond to this disjuncture. Internally, they're emphasizing the mindsets and core skills needed not only to implement new technologies, but master them in a manner that enhances efficiency and growth. Whether the challenge is technical, political, or otherwise, the key question for organizations in 2017 is this: Are we driving change and disruption, or are they driving us?"

The Conference Board CEO Challenge® 2017 is the latest in a survey series first conducted in 1999. From lists of choices vetted by a panel of CEOs and other experts, respondents detailed the critical strategies they are employing to improve performance in each of six areas: Human Capital, Customer Relationships/Corporate Brand and Reputation, Operational Excellence, Innovation and Digitalization, Regulation and Risk, and Sustainability.

Alongside these perennial strategic challenges, survey participants were also asked which "hot-button issues" were likely to demand enhanced vigilance and tactical responses in 2017. Worldwide, the potential for global recession was the most cited concern, followed by the need to develop next-generation leaders, cyber security, failure to attract/retain top talent, and global political uncertainty. From these responses, seven big-picture themes emerged:

(Source: Conference Board)

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