This month sees the start of a recruitment drive aimed at increasing the number of what's being termed Cyber Reservists – people with the technical know-how and skills to work alongside full-time staff, to defend against cyber attacks. Other countries, such as America and Israel it is believed, already have such systems in place, and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, is keen for us to catch up by forming our own Cyber Reserve Force. It’s recognised that computer viruses pose a significant threat, and one that will only get worse as technology advances and threats in cyber space become ever more sophisticated.
In his sights will be people who have recently left the army, along with former and current Reservists, and people for whom the military would previously have been an unthought-of experience as he mentioned on Newsnight this week. In his own words, they will be ‘computer geniuses’, people who are internet-savvy and can sit in front of computers and navigate our sensitive electronic infrastructure away from any looming and potentially catastrophic strikes. What some might call computer geeks and which one newspaper is already calling ‘keyboard commandos’.
Whatever name is used to describe this new brand of military Reservists, they will have to show a different and varied set of skills to what Reservists have had to demonstrate in the past. No longer will physical fitness, in terms of their ability to operate in the field, be a necessity. Instead, they’ll have to demonstrate that they possess a wide-ranging set of aptitudes. No doubt, the ability to keep their cool under intense pressure will be one of them. It’s one of the soft-skills, which means it will be notoriously hard to quantify.
One person who knows all about soft skills is Lieutenant Colonel Neville Holmes MBE, Commanding Officer of 6th Batallion Rifles. He's doing a Master's Degree in Leadership Management at the University of Portsmouth and has chosen to write his thesis on the transferable skills between Reservists and their employers, focusing in particular on soft skills.
He believes that hard-skills are a given: being able to drive a tank, to use a particular piece of communications equipment, or in this case, the ability to programme a bit of software that will repel a computer virus, for example. They are all easily recognisable skills, he says, unlike soft skills, such as the ability to work well with others and to manage time effectively.
This new initiative will once again, place employers at the heart of the recruitment process. The more they are engaged and informed, the better they’ll be able to understand what it is that Reservists generally are being asked to do, as well as appreciate the mutual benefits. Soft skills present a challenge, not only in the case of these new Cyber Reservists but Reservists generally, which is why Colonel Holmes’ work is so vital. He’ll be undertaking the task of writing-up his thesis over the coming months. The results will make fascinating reading and will feature here in a future blog.