A 17-year-old schoolgirl from Northamptonshire will have her first year’s university tuition fees paid after landing the top prize in a national competition to encourage more young women to consider a career in IT.
Network Rail’s Could IT Be You? competition, now in its third year, was set up by the company after concerns were raised about the slide in the number of women entering the UK’s IT sector.
Currently only 13% of students on IT-related degrees in the UK are female and the proportion of women working in IT has more than halved since the 1980s.This year’s competition winner, Talia Grantham from Northampton, will not only receive a financial prize equal to her first year’s university tuition fees but a paid work placement at Network Rail’s national centre in Milton Keynes and a year’s worth of coaching and mentoring from Network Rail’s IT team.
More than 350 entries were received for the competition, which asked 16-18-year-old schoolgirls to explain how they would use technology to make life better in the future. Seventy finalists were invited to battle it out in Milton Keynes last month, completing a series of assessments testing creativity, communication and presentation skills. Finalists also met previous competition winners and learnt about the diverse and varied IT and technology roles that are available in business from rail industry workers.
Commenting on her win, Talia said:
“I’m really interested in a career in business strategy, but I hadn’t really thought about opportunities in IT until now. Meeting the people at Network Rail really opened my eyes to the massive role IT plays in our daily lives and how it keeps our rail network running each day. The people at Network Rail have a really varied background and there’s a huge variety of skills needed to work in IT that aren’t necessarily computer related.
“It’s great that Network Rail has run a competition like this as it really does open your eyes to all the possibilities that are out there and I will definitely consider an IT career now. I’m really looking forward to doing my work experience at Network Rail in the summer and, of course, starting my degree course in September.”
Five competition runners-up - Amrita Panesar from Buckinghamshire, Eliza Short from South Gloucestershire, Abigail Richards from Birmingham, Ashley de Haye from Oxford and Taylor Hartnett from Berkshire - will also receive one week’s paid work experience and a year’s worth of coaching and mentoring with Network Rail’s IT team.
Network Rail director responsible for shared services including IT, Susan Cooklin, who created the Could IT Be You? competition in 2013, said: “We created this competition as a way to challenge the misconceptions young girls have about IT and to help them understand how exciting a career in IT can be. Technology is a vital part of all of our lives and it has been fantastic to see the ideas that these young women have had for using it to make life better in the future. This is the kind of innovation that we’re encouraging here at Network Rail as we continue our £40bn Railway Upgrade Plan to build a bigger, better railway for the growing number of people who rely on the railway each day.
“I look forward to welcoming Talia and the competition runners-up to Network Rail in the summer when they’ll be able to see first-hand how we’re using innovative technology to create the railway Britain needs for the future.”
According to the employer body e-skills UK, the number of women working in the IT industry in Britain is falling dramatically. In the 1980s it was as high as 38% but by 2013 has fallen to just 16%. Every year the IT and telecoms professional workforce requires more than 22,500 new entrants directly from education, but at present, only 13% of students on IT-related degrees in the UK are female.
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