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700 schoolgirls gather to be inspired by cyber careers

Internet security

Over 700 girls from schools across the Northwest came together for CyberFirst Empower North West, a series of events encouraging 8th grade girls to take an interest in STEM subjects by introducing them to the inspiring people working in technology today and cyber roles work.

The first two events, part of a large series, took place earlier this month at Salford’s AJ Bell Stadium and Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park, where the girls had the opportunity to meet those at the forefront of cybersecurity and – technology including IBM, KPMG UK , GCHQ, Phoenix, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman and BT.

The Empower events are run by IN4 Group, the operators of HOST, the Home of Skills & Technology, and are part of CyberFirst Schools & Colleges – an initiative of the National Cyber ​​Security Center (NCSC), which is part of GCHQ and would like to promote a diverse selection of young people who aspire to careers in the cyber sector. A key goal of the program is to get girls interested in technology while they are still at school. The goal is to involve over 500 schools from across the region over the next two years.

This is part of a larger ambition to ensure local young people have the desired skills needed for the thousands of cybersecurity, technology and intelligence job opportunities in the years to come – thanks to the National Cyber ​​Force’s move to Lancashire and a £5 billion investment in the region, which is a significant step in creating a ‘cyber corridor’ across Northern England.

At the first two Empower North West events, students participated in a series of interactive sessions, live demos, hackathons and competitions — as well as a codebreaking challenge conducted by GCHQ. All geared towards sparking career aspirations and making the world of cybersecurity relevant for the next generation. Other activities included working as part of an incident response team for a fictional supermarket that was being attacked by hackers; and using Microsoft Minecraft coding technology to make animals move and learn about the environment by interacting with Frozen Planet II’s stories through gameplay.

Some of the inspirational people the girls were able to meet included Jasmine Taylor, Cyber ​​Defense Manager at KPMG UK and Nicola Meek, Head of Education at Microsoft. Both spoke at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford.

Jasmine’s advice to the girls was “be curious”.

She said: “I came here quite by accident. I knew I was interested in science, but I was equally interested in singing and dancing. I had no idea jobs like mine existed.

“Choosing which subjects you want to study for your GCSEs is a big decision, but I urge you to be curious and think about what interests you. Keep your options open and research anything you find interesting.”

HOST controls NCSC’s CyberFirst schools in the Northwest

Nicola Meek added that events like Empower North West are vital to “give young people the tools to change the world”. She continued, “We need more girls at the table — and more young guys.”

With just 35% of STEM students in college being women – and just 22% of the UK cybersecurity workforce being women – events like Empower North West are key to achieving a more gender balanced workforce.

Rob Hegarty, Assistant Head Teacher at Montgomery Academy in Blackpool said: “CyberFirst Empower North West has been a fantastic opportunity for students to explore a range of technical careers. The event gave them a better understanding of cyber and broader technology careers through a range of top-tier career providers including GCHQ, IBM and NCC Group.

“The activities were all really interactive and based on real-world examples of roles across a range of tech careers, leaving them excited for the next level of their education!”

Lauren Monks, director of professional development programs at IN4 Group, which operates HOST, said: “If girls and young women can’t see it, they can’t be – and that’s where initiatives like CyberFirst Schools & Colleges come in.

“It’s time to show girls what this industry is about – to make it feel relevant to them and help them see it as a path to follow.”

IN4 Group ‘brought £4.6m in social value to Salford in 2021’

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