LONDON – How's this for a job title — secret agent's apprentice?
The British government is recruiting teenage apprentice spies and codebreakers without university degrees in a bid to deepen the talent pool of its intelligence services for the era of cyberterorrism and cyberwarfare.
Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the program Thursday in a speech at Bletchley Park, Britain's World War II code-breaking headquarters.
"Young people are the key to our country's future success, just as they were during the war," Hague said.
"It will be the young innovators of this generation who will help keep our country safe in years to come against threats which are every bit as serious as some of those confronted in the Second World War."
The Foreign Office said the apprenticeship program aims to find up to 100 new recruits for GCHQ — Britain's electronic surveillance agency — and the MI5 and MI6 and intelligence services. The idea is to expand recruitment of spies beyond the traditional method of a discreet "tap on the shoulder" at university.
The program will be open to bright 18-year-olds with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and even computer gaming. They will undergo a two-year course of university classes, technical training and work placements before starting full-time jobs.
High-school students will also be invited to take part in a "national cipher challenge" competition intended to inspire pupils to consider careers in mathematics and cybersecurity.
The Foreign Office said the goal was to "harness the expertise of its young people, who have grown up with a world of social media, global connectivity and interactive gaming, to make sure we can tackle the threats and challenges of the 21st century."
Hague also said the government was donating 480,000 pounds ($630,000) toward restoration of Bletchley Park, a complex of buildings and wooden huts northwest of London where hundreds of mathematicians, cryptologists, crossword puzzle experts and computer pioneers worked to crack Nazi Germany's secret codes. Historians say their work shortened World War II by as much as two years.
Bletchley Park's guardians are fundraising to restore the site and turn it into a museum.