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Not-for-profit aims to encourage 1,300 girls into cyber careers

CyNam, a not-for-profit cyber security initiative, is collaborating with industry, education providers and government to encourage young women into cyber

More than 1,000 girls across the UK are to take part in an events day designed to encourage them to consider a cyber security career in the future.

CyNam, a not-for-profit collaborative, has partnered with several firms, including Tesco, Raytheon, the Careers Enterprise Company and Sage, to run an event called EmPowerCyber for schoolgirls in Year 8.

The aim is to introduce young women to people who work in cyber roles and help them understand more about what a cyber career involves, with the hope that by doing so before they choose their GCSE options, it could set them on a more technical path.

Madeline Howard, chair and director of CyNam and organiser of EmPowerCyber, said: “There are so many career opportunities for both men and women in cyber. Cyber skills have never been so much in demand as the talent shortage continues to grow. Yet we’re still seeing fewer females coming through the sector, despite it being well paid, one of the most flexible to work in, and offering a real variety of career options.”

According to Howard, teachers and industry have encouraged the initiative – collaboration between industry, education providers and government has been flagged as important in developing the right approach to encourage more young people into tech.

Girls from 35 schools in the southwest and northeast of the UK will travel to secret locations in their respective regions to take part in cyber-specific workshops.

There is currently a skills gap, not just in the technology sector overall, but also in cyber security, which causes an issue when the cyber space is one of the fastest-growing within the sector.

The reasons young people claim to have avoided the technology sector include having misconceptions about what skills are needed for tech roles, as well as a lack of role models like them in such roles.

Men and women working in cyber from a mix of government, industry and education providers – such as Greggs, Waterstones, BT, Accenture, Gloucestershire University, the University of South Wales, HMRC and QCHQ – will lead these interactive workshops to teach children some of the skills involved in a cyber career, including coding and best practice.

Workshop organisers have created hands-on games and activities to make cyber security a more accessible subject for young girls, including capture the flag, programming drones and escape rooms.

Emma Williams, assistant principal academic at Wyedean School in Gloucestershire, said: “Industry role models inspire our young women to think bigger as, after all, seeing is believing. The cyber and STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] role models at the event will encourage our students to be more ambitious and to consider careers that they have never been exposed to.” 

Participants will also be encouraged to take part in the CyberFirst Girls Competition, the National Cyber Security Centre’s long-running competition designed to encourage girls into cyber careers, and organisers hope to run more EmPowerCyber events in the future.

As well as a lack of skills in the technology sector, there is also a lack of diversity across many cross-sections of society, including a lack of women, people from ethnic minorities, and people from less wealthy socio-economic backgrounds.

Tesco will organise transport for the events, so schools that may not have been able to offer transport to its students can now take part. A variety of schools are involved in the initiative, ensuring that a diverse set of students from different backgrounds will get a taste of what a tech career could offer them.

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