Bootcamps should become a firm fixture of the national skills fund

17 May 2022, 6:00

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

As well as reporting the tragic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the ground, the media carries regular stories of a propaganda war being conducted in cyberspace.

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

Meanwhile, away from the warzone, governments, businesses and educational institutions across the globe have been reviewing the security of their own IT systems in case they are on the receiving end of cyber attacks from Russia.

Of course, cyber attacks from Russia are nothing new (GCHQ has reported that UK ransomware incidents doubled during 2021). But the war has brought home how vital it is for us to protect our essential utilities, of which IT networks are one.

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

As a delivery partner for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), we are running programmes for cyber security analysts within our digital bootcamps offer.

As the name implies, bootcamps are by definition short (up to 16 weeks) and so no one can become a cyber security expert overnight by participating in one of these courses. A credible degree of core IT knowledge from prior learning is required. 

Nevertheless, within the space of a few days, the learner can acquire new skills and knowledge to help augment an organisation’s ability to protect its own or a client’s cyber security. 

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

Bootcamps should be better aligned with other programmes like Restart

It’s heartening to see government recognition through bootcamps that learners can top up their existing skills in ways directly relevant to fast-evolving employer needs.

In this sense, bootcamps are one solution to addressing post-16 education’s perennial challenge of providing obvious routes for progression. 

Another major advantage of bootcamps is that their content can be relied upon to be up to date. 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 medium-term course of study for two years, new areas of priority may have emerged. Bootcamps can close that gap in knowledge.

Partnership is a recurring theme in the reforms for both higher and further education, and bootcamps point to a complementary model of provision gained from the combination of FE colleges and independent training provider-delivered bootcamps. 

The latter can also draw on the ITP strength of good employer engagement.

In terms of the wave 3 expansion of bootcamps that the DfE announced in January, real thought and imagination have gone into the design of the latest procurement. This includes the invitation for ‘bespoke’ bids for digital.

But there is still room for improvement. For instance, bootcamps should be better aligned with other programmes, such as Restart, the job support programme for universal credit claimants. At the moment, learners who have signed up for a bootcamp can still be referred to an additional programme, which then takes priority.

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

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

Nevertheless, the case is growing to make bootcamps a firm fixture within the national skills fund.

We can see on the international stage just how important cyber security skills are for every nation. Here in the West Midlands, bootcamps have become one of the most sought-after methods to obtain the additional skills required.

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