Government backs plan to assemble ‘digital army’ in Kilmarnock

Funding for scheme to provide training and employment opportunities

Kilmarnock town centre    Credit: John Lord/CC BY 2.0

Plans to recruit a 200-strong ‘digital army’ of young people have been announced for a new cyber and digital learning centre in Kilmarnock.

The 16-24-year-olds will be trained in the latest cybersecurity skills and techniques at The HALO Kilmarnock when it opens its doors in May 2021. This follows the commitment of £1.5m of funding by the UK government under its Kickstart scheme.

Under the scheme, all 200 young will be paid for a minimum of 25 hours per week and the training will result in a HALO-accredited qualification. After completing the first six months of training and work experience, it is hoped that participants will be able to start a further six-month work placement.

These placements are expected to include The HALO’s corporate partners, such as ScottishPower, Barclays PLC and Anderson Strathern, and start-up companies based at the HALO and beyond. It is hoped that these work placements will lead to full-time opportunities.

The training will be the catalyst for further courses and will involve a combination of on-site training and e-learning and the intention is to expand the scheme to 500 young people.

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The HALO Kilmarnock is a £63m brownfield urban regeneration project on a 23-acre site, formerly the home of Johnnie Walker whisky.

It is a mixed-use development with both housing and business premises powered by electricity with a net zero carbon footprint.

The aim is to create an industry-leading cyber and digital training and learning facility in its enterprise and innovation hub, which is currently under construction.

In addition, plans are under way for the successful candidates to potentially be housed within a number of The HALO’s 210 net zero carbon emission smart homes that will be built in the second phase of the development, which reflects the way that Johnnie Walker provided many of its workers with affordable homes in Kilmarnock in the 50s and 60s.

Marie Macklin, founder and executive chair of The HALO Urban Regeneration Company, said: “My vision is for The HALO to create a cyber/digital army of young people who will gain the skills necessary to go out into the UK’s businesses, third sector and public sector organisations to fight the ever-increasing number of cybercriminals who are threatening this country. This funding from UK government is indeed a great kick start for this scheme and will make a significant contribution to the UK’s future cybersecurity.

“But I don’t want to stop at 200. I believe we could create opportunities for as many as 500 young people a year at The HALO. The sustainability of this ambition is all-important and I am acutely aware that for many local young people, affording housing is a challenge. We aim to address that for those participating in this scheme in much the same way as Johnnie Walker did all those years ago.” 

Scotland minister Iain Stewart said: “We are pleased to be working with HALO Kilmarnock to offer 200 young people from across Scotland the opportunity to develop the latest digital skills. The digital tech sector is one of Scotland’s biggest success stories and will make a vital contribution to economic recovery from coronavirus. The UK government’s vision for the Kickstart scheme is to give young people a future of opportunity. I would like to thank HALO Kilmarnock for sharing this vision and being an early pioneer of the scheme.”


Sam Trendall

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