Northants schoolgirl gets first year’s uni fees paid after triumphing in Network Rail IT competition: Could IT Be You 2016 winner Talia Grantham

Wednesday 23 Mar 2016

Northants schoolgirl gets first year’s uni fees paid after triumphing in Network Rail IT competition

Region & Route:
| North West & Central

A 17-year-old schoolgirl from Northamptonshire will have her first year’s university tuition fees paid after landing the top prize in a national competition to encourage more young women to consider a career in IT.

Network Rail’s Could IT Be You? competition, now in its third year, was set up by the company after concerns were raised about the slide in the number of women entering the UK’s IT sector.  Currently only 13% of students on IT-related degrees in the UK are female and the proportion of women working in IT has more than halved since the 1980s.This year’s competition winner, Talia Grantham from Northampton, will not only receive a financial prize equal to her first year’s university tuition fees but a paid work placement at Network Rail’s national centre in Milton Keynes national centre and a year’s worth of coaching and mentoring from Network Rail’s IT team.

More than 350 entries were received for the competition, which asked 16-18-year-old schoolgirls to explain how they would use technology to make life better in the future.  Seventy finalists were invited to battle it out in Milton Keynes last month, completing a series of assessments testing creativity, communication and presentation skills. Finalists also met previous competition winners and learnt about the diverse and varied IT and technology roles that are available in business from rail industry workers.

Commenting on her win, Talia said:  “I’m really interested in a career in business strategy, but I hadn’t really thought about opportunities in IT until now.  Meeting the people at Network Rail really opened my eyes to the massive role IT plays in our daily lives and how it keeps our rail network running each day. The people at Network Rail have a really varied background and there’s a huge variety of skills needed to work in IT that aren’t necessarily computer related.

“It’s great that Network Rail has run a competition like this as it really does open your eyes to all the possibilities that are out there and I will  definitely consider an IT career now.  I’m really looking forward to doing my work experience at Network Rail in the summer and, of course, starting my degree course in September.”

Five competition runners-up  - Amrita Panesar from Buckinghamshire, Eliza Short from South Gloucestershire, Abigail Richards from Birmingham, Ashley de Haye from Oxford and Taylor Hartnell from Berkshire - will also receive one week’s paid work experience and a year’s worth of coaching and mentoring with Network Rail’s IT team.

Amrita Panesar, runner up from Buckinghamshire said: “Being a runner up is a great honour for me as I never thought that someone like me, who isn't necessarily the loudest or the most confident in the room, can get noticed creatively.

“I am most excited by the opportunity to unpick the brains of IT experts in National Rail about their job and learn as much as I can about the technology industry. I also look forward to seeing IT being used to benefit society through the work Network Rail does, and how this work unfolds in practice.”

Abigail Richards, runner up from Birmingham said: “I entered this competition not really expecting much, and was extremely surprised when I was invited to take part in the final at Network Rail's headquarters in Milton Keynes.

“The final itself was an amazing experience where I made lots of friends with like-minded young women and had the opportunity to hear from female industry professionals about how they have become so successful.

“I am extremely excited and proud to be named as a runner-up, and am particularly looking forward to the week of work experience, where I can learn new things and hopefully meet a lot of interesting people!”

Network Rail director responsible for shared services including IT, Susan Cooklin, who created the Could IT Be You? competition in 2013, said: “We created this competition as a way to challenge the misconceptions young girls have about IT and to help them understand how exciting a career in IT can be.  Technology is a vital part of all of our lives and it has been fantastic to see the ideas that these young women have had for using it to make life better in the future. This is the kind of innovation that we’re encouraging here at Network Rail as we continue our £40bn Railway Upgrade Plan to build a bigger, better railway for the growing number of people who rely on the railway each day.

“I look forward to welcoming Talia and the competition runners-up to Network Rail in the summer when they’ll be able to see first-hand how we’re using innovative technology to create the railway Britain needs for the future.”

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 more than 22,500 new entrants directly from education, but at present, only 13% of students on IT-related degrees in the UK are female.

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