Whitehall ‘not cool enough’ to attract top cyber security talent

Written by Rebecca Hill on 12 September 2016 in News
News

The government needs to offer tech specialists more freedom and creativity if it wants to recruit the most talented people, according to a recruiter in the Ministry of Justice.

Whitehall departments aren't members of the 'cool' population - Photo credit: Flickr, Alan Levine

In a blogpost on the MoJ’s digital blog, the department's lead security engineer describes a recent string of unsuccessful recruitment processes for a security engineer role.

They conclude that government has to learn some “hard lessons” and work to shake off the perception that all civil service jobs are about churning out reports and fixing legacy IT systems.

The MoJ employs what is described as “ethical hackers” – people who work inside the department and try to hack into its systems on a constant basis to improve the department’s security systems.


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The anonymous recruiter said that there were two rounds that didn’t attract the right level of expertise or enough “original thinkers”, after which they decided to advertise in places that would reach hackers themselves.

However, although this brought in more people at the right level, some of those were “scooped up” by industry instead of taking the government job.

This, the post said, demonstrated a problem faced by government when recruiting for specialist technology roles: that Whitehall isn’t seen as exciting enough.

“Security-minded folk who can think originally still don’t think working for government (which is not all about intelligence agencies) is cool,” it said.

“And for good reason; some see government IT to be a massive legacy monolithic monster (partially true) where they will forever be in a dank corner, trying to troubleshoot memory issues in a some mid-90s middleware, and be valued by how many colour-coordinated reports they can churn out (not true).”

As such, government needs to ensure that people are aware they can be creative in government, can work flexible hours and from wherever they want.

“We need to incentivise these talented people with (nearly) free reign, explain the stakes to them, let them shape security practices in a department along the lines they feel comfortable,” the blogpost said.

“They already have the expertise to know what goes in a good policy and what broken guidance looks like. Let us show them how their efforts can make a difference.”

Meanwhile, the MoJ is also looking to appoint two deputy directors in its digital and technology team, both offering salaries of £90,000.

This article was amended to say that the blogpost was written by the MoJ's lead security engineer, following extra information from the MoJ.

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Comments

Philp Virgo (not verified)

Submitted on 12 September, 2016 - 12:56
There is no pool of "top cyber security talent". There are ten vacancies for every candidate. The quality and motivation of many of the candidates is suspect. It is, however, probable that 10% of current MoJ staff have the aptitude to be turned into competent security engineers inside three months - using blended learning (a mix of intensive on-line and experiential learning and mentoring). MoJ should join those who are organising "apprenticeships" for their own under-employed mature and experienced staff and/or those who left to handle family responsibilities and are now free to return.

0Laf (not verified)

Submitted on 12 September, 2016 - 14:06
Unfortunately I think what they need to offer is more money. These guys aren't stupid they know their skill are in demand so they will choose to work with carefully. Funnily enough they aren't choosing the underfunded, under resourced public sector.

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