Scarborough’s GCHQ in recruitment drive.
‘There is a huge talent pool of young people with cyber skills, or interest in them – we can tap into that and benefit the economy of the North and especially Scarborough’ GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan
Scarborough’s GCHQ base at Irton Moor is to become the training and skills hub for the North of England, with a £42m investment announced as the organisation also looks to recruit more middle-aged women from the ‘Mumsnet generation’.
The package was outlined on Monday by Robert Hannigan, director of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, on a visit to the base.
It is to be the training and skills hub of the Northern network of GCHQ, the intelligence and security organisation which monitors radio and signals communications and protects against a wide range of threats, from terrorism and cyber crime to child sex exploitation and hacking.
Along with MI5 and MI6, there will be an emphasis on recruiting more women, especially middle-aged, midcareer, dubbed “Jane Bonds”, and the organisation has used website Mumsnet for that purpose.
Of the £42m in the next four years, £30m will go towards the base’s infrastructure – modernising and improving the current environment – and £12m to skills training. The current staff of about 200 will also be “upskilled”.
During Monday’s visit, Mr Hannigan opened the Alan Turing Training and Innovation Centre (the ATTIC), a transformation of part of the existing main block into bright, airy training rooms. Earlier, 94-year-old Sister Pamela Hussey cut the ribbon on a new museum showcasing the base’s proud history. Sister Hussey, who signed up to be a Wren in 1942, was a station operative in the Second World War, intercepting radio messages from German U-boats. Scarborough’s role was fundamental in that conflict; the sinking of the Bismarck was down to messages picked up at the listening base.
In front of an audience of current staff and 30 or so guests, including dignitaries and GCHQ veterans, Mr Hannigan said the Scarborough base, since its inception early last century, had been one of the “collection sites – the crown jewels of intelligence gathering”.
The amazing work it had done throughout the last century, in two world wars and the Cold War, was continuing. “We will not be able to face the threats and conflicts without the right skills and talents,” he said. Currently, 35 per cent of GCHQemployees are women – “we need to redress the balance to 5050. We need people with the right aptitude, attitude and passion”.
To that end, the organisation is broadening its reach, away from just graduates; it is also luring young school leavers into apprenticeships.
The Scarborough base already runs cyber summer schools aimed at young people who have an interest in science and technology. Of the upcoming intake, which starts on July 11, there are 18 men and 14 women, reflecting a greater emphasis on recruiting both sexes. And the base is working closely with Scarborough’s new University Technical College (UTC) and several universities including the local campus of Coventry University.
The ATTIC is named after the Second World War codebreaker who, after groundbreaking work by Polish mathematicians, cracked the Germans’ Enigma code.
A short walk away from the new centre, the new “Y” Station Museum’s star attraction is an Enigma machine. The breaking of those codes by the Allies shortened the war by at least two years, it is said.
In the last century Scarborough’s was one of about 150 “Y” stations around the world, who fed their picked-up messages to Bletchley Park, the “X” station.
The museum houses everything from a “Thermal Undulator Type GP-2” to a mock-up of a 1973 workstation, complete with The Sun newspaper. And in one cabinet the sign: “This Is A Prohibited Place Within The Meaning Of The Official Secrets Act 1911-1989. You Are Liable To Arrest And Prosecution If You Enter The Area”.
That secrecy still exists today, of course, although the organisation is “opening up” a little to the outside world and uncovering its mystique; it has just joined Twitter.
Current employees Jane and Debbie both joined GCHQ at the age of 36, and spoke of the opportunities now available to women, particularly middle-aged.
“It’s challenging and interesting, and there’s flexibility if you do have kids – flexi-time and time off for school sports, for example,” said Debbie, who was in the RAF for seven years, left to have a family and wanted to return to a “sense of duty for my country”.
Jane was in telecoms for 20 years, leaving for GCHQ 11 years ago. “I had an engineering degree, but nowadays there is a shift away from looking for STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to emotional intelligence and life experience.”
The “Y” Station Museum is off limits to the public, but Scarborough’s central library currently has a display of GCHQ artefacts, until midAugust.
Robert Hannigan, the director of GCHQ, opens the Alan Turing Training and Innovation Centre during his visit to the Scarborough base. 162901e PICTURES BY RICHARD PONTER
1. Entrance to GCHQ Scarborough. 2. Display of a 1973 workstation in the “Y” Station Museum. 3. The Scarborough base monitors global communications. 4. Robert Hannigan addressing staff and guests on Monday.