Neuro diverse candidates are finding their skillset is sought after in every sector of IT. This is especially true in the fast moving and ever evolving cyber security industry, writes Richard Cornell MBCS M.Inst.ISP, CISSP, CISM, Digital End Point Assessor at BCS.

Did you know that 48% of all UK businesses have a basic cyber skills gap? In the cyber security sector, 68% of businesses have tried to recruit someone in the last three years and 35% of vacancies have been considered ‘hard to fill’ - of these, 31% are considered entry level roles.

The most common reason why roles are considered ‘hard to fill’ is that candidates lack the technical skills or knowledge. 30% of UK businesses think they need advanced technical cyber skills, but are not confident at performing them. These advanced skills include penetration testing, forensic analysis, security architecture / engineering, threat intelligence, interpreting malicious code and user monitoring.

According to recruitment website, Indeed, the most in-demand cyber security roles in the UK market include IT security specialist (average salary £45,722), security engineer (average salary £32,370) and information security analyst (average salary £39,992). These roles are suitable to those with a talent for IT in general and a desire and willingness to learn more about cyber security. For those without a cyber specific qualification, a great way to start is to do an apprenticeship in IT.

There are many different types of IT apprenticeships available in hardware, network, cloud and infrastructure, software development, analysis and of course, cyber security. There are also apprenticeships in digital marketing and sales which are also vital to support the IT industry. All of the apprenticeships are at a range of levels and are suitable to learners of all ages from school leavers through to more experienced professionals looking to enhance their experience.

Apprenticeships are also a boon for people who have often not flourished in more traditional education. Many neuro diverse traits are seen as strengths in the cyber sector. These include; being logical and methodical, cognitive pattern recognition, ‘outside the box’ thinking, attention to detail, reliability, loyalty, integrity and being task focused.

Across the cyber sector, 9% of employees have neuro diverse conditions or learning disorders (the DCMS definition includes autism, Asperger syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD). Of the 68% of cyber firms that have tried to recruit people in the last three years, 16% say that they have adapted their recruitment processes, or carried out specific activities to encourage applications from people with neuro diverse conditions or learning disorders.

Amongst some employers, there is a sense that diverse cyber teams would benefit from new ways of thinking and problem solving, which could lead to greater productivity and innovation. For example, one highlighted that cyber teams needed to match the diversity of those carrying out cyber attacks.

One cyber firm said that the majority of their workforce were neuro divergent. They had taken extensive measures to support neuro diverse employees, including giving colleagues with autism ongoing training on how to manage relationships with line managers and hiring a welfare officer to assist with employee wellbeing. These initiatives were regarded as highly successful, and the firm felt that it was far more innovative as a result of its diverse workforce.

One cyber firm described working in partnership with a local charity, supporting young people, home carers and those on the autistic spectrum with training and work placement opportunities. In one case, a large business had worked in partnership with the National Autistic Society to overhaul all their recruitment processes to make them suitable for neuro diverse people.

There are geographic hotspots of activity in the cyber security labour market, which include London, Edinburgh and Belfast, as well as parts of the West Midlands including the Malvern area in Worcestershire and the South West, such as Bristol, Cheltenham and wider Gloucestershire.

As the skills gap widens in almost every sector of IT, but especially cyber security, the industry will need to find new and innovative ways to both train and attract new and diverse talent from every area of society.

If you have neuro diverse superpowers, start (or progress) your career in IT, now