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Over 700 schoolgirls from across the North West gather to get inspired by cyber careers

CyberFirst Empower North West encourages Year 8 schoolgirls to pursue STEM careers

Over 700 girls from schools across the North West gathered for CyberFirst Empower North West; a series of events that encourage Year 8 girls to pursue an interest in STEM subjects by introducing them to the inspirational people working in technology and cyber roles today.

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

Delivered by IN4 Group, operators of HOST, the Home of Skills & Technology, the Empower events are part of CyberFirst Schools & Colleges an initiative from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is a part of GCHQ, that aims to encourage a diverse range of young people to pursue careers in the cyber sector. A major objective of the scheme is to encourage girls to take an interest in technology during their school years. It aims to engage over 500 schools from across the region in the next two years.

This is part of a bigger ambition to ensure that local young people have the desired skills needed for the thousands of job opportunities in cyber security, technology and intelligence in the coming years – thanks to the National Cyber Force’s move to Lancashire and £5 billion investment into the region being a significant step in creating a ‘cyber corridor’ across the North of England.

The first two Empower North West events saw students engage in a series of interactive sessions, live demos, hackathons and competitions – as well as a codebreaking challenge run by GCHQ. All designed to raise career aspirations and make the world of cyber security relevant to the next generation. Other activities included:   

  • Working as part of an Incident Response Team for a fictional supermarket that had been targeted by hackers.
  • Using Microsoft Minecraft coding technology to make animals move and learn about the environment by interacting with Frozen Planet II stories through gameplay.

The inspirational people the girls were able to meet included Jasmine Taylor, cyber defence manager at KPMG UK, and Nicola Meek, education lead at Microsoft. Both spoke at Salford’s AJ Bell Stadium.

Jasmine’s advice to the girls was “be curious.” She said: “I got here completely by accident. I knew I was interested in science, but I was equally interested in singing and dancing. I had no idea that jobs like mine existed. Choosing what subjects to study for your GCSEs is a big decision, but I would urge you to be curious and think about what interests you. Keep your options open and research anything that you find interesting.”


Nicola Meek added that events like Empower North West are vital in “giving young people the tools to change the world.” She continued: ‘‘We need more girls at the table – and more young people.’’

Only 35% of STEM students in higher education are women – and just 22% of the UK’s cyber security workforce is represented by women – events like Empower North West are critical in helping to achieve greater gender balance.

Rob Hegarty, Assistant Headteacher at Montgomery Academy in Blackpool, said: “CyberFirst Empower North West has been a fantastic opportunity for students to be exposed to a range of tech careers. The event has left them more informed of careers in cyber and wider technology through a range of high quality career providers, including GCHQ, IBM and NCC Group. The activities were all really interactive and based on real life examples of roles in a range of tech careers, leaving them enthused about the next stage of their education!”

Lauren Monks, director of careers education programmes at IN4 Group, operator of HOST, said: ‘‘If girls and young women can’t see it, they can’t be it – and that’s where initiatives like CyberFirst Schools & Colleges come in. It’s time to show girls what this industry’s all about – make it feel relevant to them and help them see it as a path they can follow.’

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