Businesses guide students to TeenTech awards at the Palace

Companies including JVC and Google have mentored a number of schoolchildren who have won TeenTech awards

Companies including Airbus, JVC, Atkins, National Grid and Google have mentored a number of school children who have won TeenTech awards for their technology ideas to make life better, simpler and easier.

Prizes were awarded on 13 October at Buckingham Palace by HRH the Duke of York to the schoolchildren aged between 11 and 16 who have used their knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects to create world-changing technology projects.

Lead product manager at Google Matt Goodridge said the company wants to help the whole ecosystem and contribute technology knowledge where education falls short.

“There’s a skills shortage at the moment, and if we can help teenagers and teachers really understand more about the technology world and help encourage students to take up technology as a career path, the whole industry and society will benefit,” he said.

Hundreds of schools across the country submitted scientific and technological solutions to real problems in 16 categories linked to industries important to the future – including the environment, transport, healthcare and wearable technology

Each category was mentored by a business which provided hands-on support to the schoolchildren who are now in talks with enterprises and charities to get their projects into pilot schemes.

Richard Lander School in Cornwall, which was mentored by the National Grid, is now in talks with Save The Children Asia to pitch its Playground Dynamo idea. The schoolchildren came up with a suggestion to build a playground from recycled materials which would be able to produce local power.

National Grid power system engineer Tom Milner told Computer Weekly TeenTech is one of many programmes the power grid supports.

“There’s a huge skills shortage of engineers entering the power industry,” said Milner.

“But encouraging technical science at GCSE and A-Level will allow them to walk into a technical degree at university, join an apprentice scheme or the equivalent. It's about taking the right steps early on, and it’s not just an interesting field to work in, it rewards financially as well – you’re always going to find employment if you’re an engineer.”

Milner said the National Grid needs to ensure there is a future supply of engineers who will be able to help solve the challenges facing the organisation due to changing technology – one of which is renewable energies.

“It’s not just the case of unplugging a coal power station and plugging in a wind farm,” he said. “The changes in technology are having a huge impact and they aren’t well known because it’s to do with reactive powers – which is technical and complex.

“Even changing to a flatscreen TV can have consequences. And all the solar panels people put on their houses reduces power demand – which is a good thing for renewable energy targets, but the grid wasn’t set up to have power coming up, so it causes voltage problems.”

Providing opportunities for young people in the Stem workplace

Founded in 2008 by Maggie Philbin and Chris Dodson, the TeenTech organisation aims to help young people understand the opportunities available to them in the Stem workplace. TeenTech runs one-day events across the UK, offering hands-on exhibitions and workshops from businesses and universities.

The awards are not only a way to connect kids with people that can make their brilliant ideas happen, but a way of helping young people see beyond the classroom and into their future career

Maggie Philbin, TeenTech

“We’ve all seen the facts predicting the ever-increasing skills gap in our Stem workforce, yet these projects show us exactly why it’s so important we nurture the passion of our future innovators at this critical stage in their lives," said Philbin

"The awards are not only a way to connect kids with people that can make their brilliant ideas happen, but a way of helping young people see beyond the classroom and into their future career,” she added. 

Sponsors of the awards include Google, Airbus, Network Rail, Hewlett-Packard, JVC, CPC, National Grid, Equal Experts, OCR, Institute of Food Science and Technology, Cranfield University, Maplin, EDF Energy Campus and PA Consulting.

In 2015, a new category surrounding consumer innovation will be partnered by Maplin to bring the winning design to the market and be sold in stores and online.

Group marketing officer at Maplin Breffni Walsh said it's important for businesses to engage with the young innovators of tomorrow.

“Through our project, we’ll be aiming to give them a real, commercial opportunity to develop their ideas into actual products which will get produced and sold in our stores and on the Maplin website,” she said.

Could IT Be You? competition for girls

Meanwhile, Philbin has also teamed up with Network Rail to drive its Could IT Be You? competition for girls. The competition is open to girls aged between 16 and 18, and asks them to explain how technology can improve their lives and make things better.

The winning girl gets her first-year university fees paid for by Network Rail. Three runners-up receive two weeks of paid work experience and mentoring with the Network Rail IT team.

Could IT Be You? was founded by Network Rail CIO Susan Cooklin. According to Philbin, Cooklin is one the few people actually encouraging more women into the IT sector, despite many others claming to be doing so. 

Read more on IT for charity organisations

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