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Gloucestershire Business News

Record number of schoolgirls and cyber specialists to get together

Next week, Gloucestershire schoolgirls, government cyber specialists and business leaders will gather for the UK's largest ever cybersecurity workshop.

Now in its third year and hosted by Cheltenham's non-profit cybersecurity cluster, CyNam, the #EmPowerCyber2023 event on November 17 will be the biggest yet to inspire females to pursue a career in cyber.

A thousand year 8 schoolgirls from 29 schools across the South West region will attend the event at a location near GCHQ, as the Government declares a digital skills crisis in the UK.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) revealed earlier this year how government had less than half the tech professionals needed. Furthermore, the number of women in cybersecurity has declined from 22% to 17% for the first time in three years according to this year's Cyber security skills gap study from the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology (DSIT).

Charlotte Smith, cyber skills growth lead at CyNam, said: "Attending EmPower is a unique opportunity for both the region's students and teachers to engage with the cyber industry away from the classroom, in a truly immersive experience.

"It leaves a lasting impression that shapes further teaching and enables unique long-lasting relationships to be built. More importantly, it also informs our future female talent of all the opportunities that exist within this widening sector.

"Perception and representation of females within the industry still requires drastic improvement and this massive event, engaging with 1,000 local year 8 girls is forming a legacy that is now being templated in other regions of the UK."

Since 2019, #EmPowerCyber has delivered cybersecurity workshops to 2,150 girls, with some schools seeing a 600% increase in girls choosing GCSE computer science after attending the workshop.

This year, the event has the biggest backing yet, with support from organisations such as BT, the NHS and Renishaw, and involving over 30 local businesses in the South West.

At the hands-on event, the year 8 girls will be shown how to code, crack passwords, experience a real live cyber-attack, and take part in activities such as learning how to hack VAR, defending critical national infrastructure, solving a cryptography murder mystery, harnessing artificial intelligence and how to create a crypto wallet.

Sanjeeva Karunaratne, computer science teacher at Cirencester Kingshill School, which attended EmPowerCyber last year, said: "Going to EmPower is a starting point for many students in understanding the importance and relevancy that cyber and other related subjects such as computer science have in the world and career opportunities.

"One event alone may not mean they will go on to do a computing subject, but it does inspire students into the subject and starts them on their journey."

Gloucestershire schools taking part in the event are Gloucester Academy, Dean Academy, Pittville School, The Crypt School, Denmark Road High School and Ribston Hall High School.

A CyberFirst representative at the NCSC added: "It is really encouraging to see so many girls get stuck in with cyber. Initiatives like EmPowerCyber are designed with the hope of sparking curiosity and empowering young girls to explore the opportunities cyber has to offer - opportunities they may never have considered otherwise."

Gloucestershire is home to the largest concentration of cyber tech businesses outside of London and the largest cyber tech cluster in the UK. The £1 billion Golden Valley Development in Cheltenham is currently underway, which will position Cheltenham at the heart of the UK cyber ecosystem and make it a key player in establishing the UK as a science and tech superpower, focusing on emerging technology sectors.

Members of the Golden Valley Development team will attend EmPowerCyber, with students being given an opportunity to feedback on what they think of the development.

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