Cambridge schoolgirl wins runners’ up prize in national IT competition run by Network Rail: Could IT Be You runner up Jennifer Potter

Thursday 19 Mar 2015

Cambridge schoolgirl wins runners’ up prize in national IT competition run by Network Rail

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A 17 year old girl from The Perse School in Cambridge, has scooped a runners’ up prize in a national competition run by Network Rail, which aims to raise awareness amongst young women of the exciting breadth of career options in technology and redress the male/female balance in the sector.

Jennifer Potter is one of five runners’ up who beat around 200 girls aged 16-18 in the Could IT Be You? Competition, launched in 2013 by Network Rail group chief information officer Susan Cooklin, who believes passionately that careers in IT are widely misunderstood and misrepresented.  

Jennifer’s winning submission explained how technology can improve our lives and make things better. She talked about online and video technology could help improve further education, in particular for those, like herself that have long commutes. She also created a tweet which said: “Because life can be easier #takecontroltech  

Jennifer, four other runners-up and the overall winner will receive two weeks paid work experience and mentoring with the company’s IT team.

Commenting on her win she said: “I'm so excited to have won a prize in this competition. It will be an amazing opportunity and I am eagerly anticipating all that awaits in the year to come.”

Susan Cooklin, founder of the competition and Network Rail Group CIO said: "Popular culture has helped create a perception among young women that a career in IT is all about writing code in basement offices – the reality couldn't be further from the truth. All this year’s winners have showed a creative mind for solving problems and good communications, and these are the skills that business leaders are after. Congratulations to them all, and I can’t wait to bring them on board this summer where they will get a fantastic opportunity to see how technology is integral to the successful running of the railway.”

She added: “Technology plays an absolutely crucial role in moving 4.5m people by rail in Britain, safely and reliably, every day. This competition is a great way to help young women realise what a career in IT is really about and the fantastic career opportunities that a company like Network Rail can offer."

All the girls met TeenTech founder and former Tomorrow’s World TV presenter Maggie Philbin at a finalists day in February at Network Rail’s corporate office in Milton Keynes, where it’s IT strategy function is based.

Commenting on why girls aren’t choosing the technology path given how much it impacts on our lives, she said: "The rich variety of roles and opportunities within IT are poorly understood not only by students but by parents and teachers. There's a real responsibility for employers to do as much as they can to clarify what's involved and help students understand how they very much belong in this world. 

"This great initiative from Network Rail is helping girls to see themselves in roles they may have previously discounted because they had a perception of rail as a male industry. It's not all hard hats and hi-vis jackets but an industry that needs good thinkers, people who thrive on teamwork and will derive satisfaction from solving infrastructure problems of every kind. It's a great industry and one where women can really make their mark."

The overall winner is Felicia Chang from King Edward VI High School for Girls in Edgbaston.

The five runners’ up are:

Millie Andrew, Kingdown school, Warminster, Wiltshire, aged 18
Eve Hesketh, The Duston School, near Northampton, Northamptonshire, aged 17            
Jennifer Potter, The Perse School, Cambridge, aged 17
Kate Jameson and Lucia Anderson, both aged 17 and from Chesham Grammar School, Buckinghamshire              

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Notes to editors

Could IT Be You? Competition is open to girls aged 16-18
More information can be found at: www.coulditbu.co.uk  or Twitter @couldITbu14

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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 almost 21,000 new entrants directly from education, but at present, only 15% of students on IT-related degrees in the UK are female.

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A survey conducted in 2013 for Network Rail of 16-24 year old women in Britain revealed:

- 64% of women have not considered a career in IT.

- 28% had but were not currently working in the industry.

- Negative stereotypes put 10% off pursuing a career with 43% saying it was a lack of technical skill. A further 41% said it was inadequate career advice or little insight into the industry.

- 58% believe that a high level of technical expertise in computer programming or code is the most important skill for a successful career in IT. 23% thought a degree or college qualification in a technology subject was most important.

- Only 4% thought good project management skills were the most important with only 7% citing good communication skills as the most valuable.

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