Preston summit discusses opportunities and jobs to come from Lancashire’s secret cyber force centre

Business and education leaders had the chance to learn about the 2,000 jobs to be created when the National Cyber Force base opens in Lancashire.

Delegates at the National Cyber Force summit held at UCLan to discuss jobs and business opportunities to come form the cyber security centre
Delegates at the National Cyber Force summit held at UCLan to discuss jobs and business opportunities to come form the cyber security centre

At an event in Preston, businesses, policymakers, universities, colleges and public service providers were told the NCF’s decision to base itself in the county was a “once in a generation” opportunity to help create a dynamic and inclusive innovation-led ecosystem.

Established in 2020 the NCF is a partnership between the Ministry of Defence and the UK’s intelligence, cyber and security agency GCHQ, as well as SIS and Dstl.

The partnership is responsible for operating in and through cyberspace to counter threats and keep the country safe. In October 2021, it was announced that its permanent location would be in Lancashire, with around 2,000 jobs created by 2030.

Sarah Kemp, chief executive of the Lancashire LEP at the NCF event at UCLan

At the special NCF industry summit, hosted by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) at UCLan’s Engineering and Innovation Centre, 150 gathered to discuss the benefits to be generated by the NCF.

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The half-day session, which was co-produced by the LEP, NCF, BAE Systems, UCLan and Lancaster University, supported by Plexal, was introduced by LEP chief executive Sarah Kemp.

Themes covered how Lancashire companies and public sector organisations could collaborate on NCF-related activities; opportunities for county businesses to develop more cross-sector working; the advantages of developing a regional cyber cluster across the North West; and how SMEs and the wider supply chain could tap into the commercial opportunities.

The Engineering and Innovation Centre at UCLan in Preston

Another key topic was the need to develop and promote a broad mix of skills, qualifications and career pathways with the extensive range of jobs set to be generated, both directly and indirectly, due to the NCF’s investment.

Senior NCF members also emphasised their commitment to recruiting a genuinely diverse and inclusive workforce, and how they wanted to challenge the stereotype that people working in cyber roles were exclusively ‘techies,’ or ‘coders’ . They said many roles will be non-technical, with employment opportunities to suit young people, new graduates and career-changers, plus experienced cyber professionals.

The morning culminated in two panel discussions. The first, featuring a mix of Lancashire businesses and senior representatives from both GCHQ and NCF, discussed the tools and resources needed to develop an effective and collaborative innovation ecosystem.

It also explored why Lancashire is well-placed to develop these powerful and integrated private-public networks, and how they can increase productivity and drive growth.

The second panel featured local skills, training and education providers, focussing on the importance of developing a highly-skilled and diverse talent pipeline for the NCF.

This includes ensuring that people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, people who are neuro-diverse, people with protected characteristics, and people who are underrepresented in the technology sector, have equal opportunity to work with NCF.

In addition, panellists discussed barriers and misconceptions about working in technology sectors such as cyberspace; the need to inspire and excite young people about a career in the wider digital industries; and what the county’s skills and careers landscape may look like in ten years’ time when the size and capabilities of the NCF is operating at scale.

Debbie Francis, chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: “This event cemented the fact that the NCF presents a transformational opportunity for everyone in Lancashire.

"For example, in addition to the 2,000 direct jobs announced, we anticipate many more will be created across the supply chain, and that many of these new positions will be high value and high skilled roles. The NCF is clearly going to be a game-changer.

She said that the LEP also saw the NCF acting as a powerful catalyst, driving innovation and bringing people, businesses and organisations together to develop new ways of doing things.

She added: “It will also build upon some of the great work already undertaken by the LEP and its many partners, especially in areas like vocational training and business support, and will complement other powerful assets such as our outstanding universities, our award-winning Digital Skills Partnership, the recently launched Lancashire Cyber Alliance network, and the new AMRC North West facility.

"The LEP and its partners are therefore looking forward to working closely with the NCF, and maximising the fantastic opportunities set to be unlocked by their presence in the very heart of the county.”

The NCF will play a key role in the region’s evolving ‘cyber corridor’, alongside GCHQ’s office in Manchester and Lancaster University’s cybersecurity R&D hub, contributing to a world-class cybersecurity and cyberspace cluster in the North West.