Dr. Andrea Cullen, CAPSLOCK

Re-training reimagined

Dr. Andrea Cullen from CAPSLOCK discusses why CAPSLOCK was established in an effort to broaden skills and understanding for a career in digital security.

CAPSLOCK is a new, government-backed educational organisation which re-trains people in cyber security.

A new model of online education is being piloted with a revolutionary method of student finance in 2021, funded by government and backed by some of the UK’s most influential employers. Here is what Andrea Cullen from CAPSLOCK told us:

Please can you tell me a bit more about the background, ethos and history of CAPSLOCK?
Our key goal is to help fill the UK’s cyber skills gap. That’s why our courses are designed to re-skill adult learners and kick-start their cyber security careers in as little as four months. Our curriculum was developed in collaboration with a wide range of cyber employers (such as BT, Dell, Lloyd’s Banking Group) and is built around in-demand job roles and employer needs. Our learners graduate with technical and impact cyber skills, and have the option to gain five cyber certifications, allowing them to enter the cyber job market with confidence.

Another key goal is to make cyber more accessible. Our model utilises Income Share Agreements, meaning there are no upfront costs for learners. Instead, they simply pay back a percentage of their future salary, so they don’t pay for the course until they land a high-paying job.

CAPSLOCK was founded by myself, Lorna Armitage, and Jonathan Slater. Lorna and I have worked in the cyber industry for many years as consultants and academics, and we designed the cyber security master’s degree for the University of Bradford. Jonathan is a former cyber security recruiter, so between us we can provide world-class education and help our graduates seek gainful employment after the course.

What products or services does the company offer?
Currently, we offer two variations of our cyber security re-training course: one is part-time and last for 26 weeks, the other is full-time and lasts for 16 weeks.

The curriculum is the same for both schedules and covers a diverse range of topics, including business understanding, cyber ethics and culture, governance, risk and compliance, offensive and defensive security, and cloud security. The classes revolve around team-based learning and problem-based learning, meaning our learners work towards solving real-world cyber security problems as part of a team. This simulates a realistic working environment, and creates an immersive learning experience, which encourages engagement, exploration, innovation, and confidence.

We also offer five key cyber certifications which students can gain alongside the course, as well as career support, interview preparation, and mentoring with industry experts.

How is tech integrating with the education sector?
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, people have become far more familiar and comfortable with remote learning and working. They have also become more reliant on the tech, which facilitates and enhances learning. Rather than just replicating online what you do in a physical classroom, tech advancements are opening the door for more creative, interactive, and dynamic modes of education.

For CAPSLOCK, we have taken some leading edge learning methodologies such as team-based learning, and developed a cutting-edge tech stack to deliver it online via our virtual campus. This allows us to remove some of the traditional barriers to education because our classes can be accessed remotely. The tech we’re using to enhance our education delivery includes Zoom live classes, Canvas LMS, workplace simulation labs, Slack communication tools, and an online Team Based Learning facilitation platform.

What trends are you seeing in tech education?
I’m seeing a definite move away from in-person, location-based education. This still has a place and serves a purpose, of course, but there is certainly a diversification occurring. It’s allowing for more flexibility in the way people access education.

The two main modes of tech education currently vary from the very long (degree) to the very short (training course), and both can be very expensive. We’ve designed CAPSLOCK to be a third option, which combines the rigour of a master’s degree with the practicality of a bootcamp, and all with no upfront costs. I think this is a trend that will spread throughout the tech education sector and beyond, as people look for more flexible learning.

I’m also seeing a move away from a purely technical focus in education. Businesses are realising that, whilst a deep knowledge of the required technology is important, a solid set of impact skills is vitally important too, yet often lacking. I think it’s much harder to teach someone how to be a good communicator or a good team player than it is to teach them about cloud security, for example!

How have the education space evolved to meet the needs of the tech sector and vice versa?
Education is evolving to be more employment-led. Where attendance to university was once purely for the pursuit of knowledge (and for a very privileged few), it is now more closely tied to gearing students up for employment.

I think the education space is also evolving to accept that not everyone wants to go to university, or can spend the required time and money to go.

So, in that regard, the tech sector is evolving to allow people to access education in more diverse ways. For example, our learners must complete some mandatory pre-course work before we make them an unconditional offer. This involves some virtual labs and learning material, which is all completed online. Therefore, technology is allowing us to assess someone’s potential and suitability for the course by completing the required tasks, rather than by judging them on their past academic achievements.

Another undeniable aspect of education is how you pay for it, and advancements in tech are allowing us to streamline and democratise this element. We need our learners to be able to defer their fees with an Income Share Agreement, the entire application for which is conducted online. Our ISA partner uses a learner’s online pre-course work and potential to assess their suitably for this scheme, so technology is allowing us to bring more people into education who might not have previously had the means.

Where do you see the future of education and online learning going?
I think the future of online learning will see education becoming more agile, more aligned with job opportunities, and more accessible. Online education can be speedy and pro-active when it comes to the creation of new course material, which could take universities years to approve.

I think the increasing accessibility of online learning will enable a more consumer-driven educational environment as it will be easier for institutions to facilitate learning online to smaller, more niche groups. It will also become a more responsive environment where, for example, industry shortages can be responded to much quicker.

Do employers recognise online learning courses as successfully as onsite training courses?
We believe so. When constructing our course, we consulted with a wide range of UK cyber employers to ensure our learner’s outcomes would match the skills they’re looking for. It’s not surprising, then, that many of these businesses are keen to interview CAPSLOCK graduates once they complete the course. Our employer network includes the likes of Deloitte, Lloyds Banking Group, BT, and Dell, all of whom are excited by the knowledge, skills and certifications that we will be delivering to our learners. It’s also worth noting that our course was especially designed to be remote and offer live instructor-led tuition, which allows it to be as immersive and interactive as in-person training.

What’s the success rate for students going straight into employment after training?
The two course we are currently running are our inaugural cohorts, which we are incredibly excited about! Therefore, we don’t have any employment success rates yet, but the learners on both courses are such remarkable, talented people that we are entirely confident that they will successfully gain employment in the cyber industry. The UK produces around 6,000 cyber graduates from universities each year, and 90% of these find employment in the first 6 months after graduation. Seeing as our curriculum is more hands-on and employment-focused than a typical degree, and taking into consideration that our adult learners already have work experience and transferrable skills, we have no doubts that our employment success rates will be even higher.

Is this supplementary learning in addition to on site learning if so does it offer work experience opportunities?
Our learning is conducted 100% online, but there is still scope for work experience opportunities. Various members of our employer network have already been in touch to organise internships for some of our students. This would enable a learner to have a cyber internship placement during the day and study with us in the evenings, for example. The ideal outcome would then be for that learner to begin a full-time role with the employer following graduation.

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