Warrington teen tech contest proves surprise hit with girls

A technology contest to entice more Warrington youngsters into a career in science or engineering has proved a surprise hit with girls.

Two thirds of the students who signed up for United Utilities’ 16-week Masterclass programme with Warrington’s The Challenge Academy Trust (TCAT) were female.

The contest matches teams of students from four schools with United Utilities mentors to crack an engineering conundrum and culminates in a final showdown before judges.

This year 64 students aged between 13 and 14 years were challenged to devise a scheme to pipe water from a remote location in Cumbria.

Chris Hillidge, Director of STEM for TCAT, Beamont Collegiate Academy (BCA), put the surprise influx of female participants to the huge popularity among girls who took part in the first programme last year.

“I think many of them had pre-conceptions about engineering but were surprised to find that it wasn’t about making things and steel toe-capped boots. Modern engineering focusses on collaboration, creating solutions, presentation skills and so many other opportunities which are just as important, and the girls saw the potential in that.

“The girls who took part last year enjoyed it so much they have been great advocates for this year’s programme. Both of the teams from Beamont Collegiate Academy this year were made up entirely of girls.”

Of the nine girls from BCA who took part in last year’s programme, several are now seriously considering careers in engineering, five signed up to a week-long Manchester University summer school and are now considering science and engineering A-levels who were not before.

For a huge engineering firm like United Utilities, which is based in Great Sankey, tying up with BCA and its four sister schools - Bridgewater, Sir Thomas Boteler and Penketh high schools - has benefits for recruiting the next generation of talent.

Head of Process Delivery Joanne Rands, who is sponsoring the scheme on behalf of the firm, said it was vital for companies to stay connected with young people and that engineering was a great job for any gender:

“I was inspired to study chemical engineering by two teachers – one maths and one chemistry. They gave me the confidence to go into engineering and I’ve never looked back. Being a female has never been an issue for me. I don’t define myself as a woman in what I do at work, I define myself as an engineer.

“Last year over 45% of students who took part in our Masterclass said they were more interested in a STEM related career as a result of being involved. That for me is a real result.”

Masterclass was the brainchild of TCAT Leaders Keiron Powell and Chris Hillidge, who approached United Utilities. As a result, TCAT engineering lead Jimmy Ingman was invited to spend a week at the company’s HQ at Lingley Mere touring engineering disciplines and talking to experts.

Principal of BCA, Mr Andrew Moorcroft said ‘Working with a leading water supplier like United Utilities was a huge bonus. The project we generated is the first of its kind from within any multi academy trust nationwide, that set out to develop industry-led, education-inspired project-learning from across the various STEM disciplines,” he said.

The Masterclass programme won a prestigious Educate Award in a ceremony at Liverpool Cathedral in November 2018.