Perspectives

How SkillsBuild is helping a British army veteran build a new cybersecurity career

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As IBM announces its commitment to skill 30 million people globally by 2030, I’m sharing an inspiring SkillsBuild story from the UK. Men Gurung, a former soldier with the Brigade of Gurkhas is using IBM SkillsBuild to help fulfill a long-held ambition to work in cybersecurity. IBM has long been committed to help former Service men and women gains skills and qualifications to find good jobs for their post-forces’ careers and Men is a great example of how this works here in the UK.

Men Gurung recalls when he decided to take the step to retrain in cybersecurity. After having been securely employed by the Armed Forces and then in close protection security for all his career, Men’s last job ended.  He knew it would be easy to find another job in personal security. But with his children now grown-up and financially independent, Men decided to go for something completely different. “I knew I would love to work in cybersecurity but was it was far out of my comfort zone. I thought it’s now or never.”

Today, with help of SkillsBuild partner SaluteMyJob, Men has a range of SkillsBuild cybersecurity qualifications under his belt and is on placement as a Business Information Security Analyst at Wood PLC, a global leader in consulting and engineering. He’s threat-hunting, thinking like a hacker and deploying his IBM Security QRadar expertise.  He recently received the good news that his placement has been extended.

Men’s journey to Wood PLC was far from typical. Born and raised in the rural Gorkha district in Nepal, Men enlisted in the British Army’s Brigade of Gurkhas at a young age. He served 20 years in the regiment with stints in an array of countries worldwide. After retiring with exemplary service in 2006, he trained and worked as a Close Protection Officer for individual clients and their assets.

While Men was confident in his decision to work in cybersecurity, he was less sure of how to get there. A tip from a veteran friend led him to SaluteMyJob. Founded by army veteran and former IBMer Andrew Jackson in 2019 to better connect his peers with opportunities, SaluteMyJob differentiates itself by being “one initial resource that covers a full spectrum of information and connections” says Aine Brown, Operations Director. “We help ex-forces people identify their skills and experience and communicate them as added-value for employers. We also use our connections to find trainings, placements and employment opportunities.”

IBM SkillsBuild cybersecurity training courses are a valuable asset for both those who have worked in cybersecurity as part their military deployment and those who have no experience, says Aine. Through SaluteMyJob, Men took SkillsBuild courses including CyberSecurity with IBM Resilient and IBM Radar SIEM. The courses were of a high-standard and sometimes challenging. “But even if they are online, you are not alone” he says “with the help of IBM instructors, I got through it”. His newly acquired qualifications together with his openness to opportunities led to SaluteMyJob help him secure a work placement with Wood PLC.

Malcolm Norman, Chief Information Security Officer at Wood PLC, and Men’s manager for his work placement, sees the value in hiring veterans. “Veterans such as Men have a huge variety of experience. They have an ability to be part of a team and to lead by example. They are resilient and flexible. And most of all, they get stuck in and focus on delivering a solution” he says. Malcolm believes that SaluteMyJob really helps veterans realise the value of their skills and to sell those skills, overcoming their common problem of underselling themselves. He also advocates for educating recruiters and hiring managers about the capability and talent within the veterans’ community.

Diversity in the cybersecurity profession needs to improve, according to Malcolm. “We need greater diversity in backgrounds, greater diversity in skills, greater diversity in education. The rather small pool of talent that traditionally fed the cybersecurity world is just not enough to feed the demand, nor is it diverse enough in the level of skills, experience, knowledge and capability, for the multi skilled cybersecurity teams that are needed today.”   

SaluteMyJob continues to open up the pipeline of recruits. In early October, the organisation joins IBM in running the UK pilot for the IBM SkillsBuild Cybersecurity Bootcamp. Participants can gain a security analyst certification. Aine Brown sees the potential for such activities to multiply. “We have a strong community of individuals for whom the SkillsBuild courses have been successful and they are spreading the word. We are now even hearing from interested civilians who have heard about the opportunities through military connections.”

My colleague, Julian Meyrick, Vice President, WW Security Strategy Risk & Compliance practice, has influenced the SkillsBuild cybersecurity offerings based on how he sees the industry evolving. We need to increase diversity in thought to address the challenge of a very diverse set of threat actors in cybersecurity. That’s why we’re broadening the ecosystem to develop and deploy talent. By partnering with organizations rooted in diverse communities, providing high-quality qualifications as an alternative to a four-year degree, and bringing industry on board to offer placements, we can give opportunities to those often left behind while narrowing the critical skills gap.”

Men is one of over 500 veterans that IBM and Salute My Job have trained in the UK.  Over 75% have secured employment. As Men continues to build his knowledge and skills by supporting his colleagues at Wood, he hopes he can inspire other veterans.  His words of advice: use your networks; work with an organisation like SaluteMyJob; and above all, if you want a change don’t wait too long – go for it!

To explore what is possible through IBM SkillsBuild, including signing up for free, please visit https://skillsbuild.org/.

Corporate Social Responsibility Lead, IBM UK

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