Posted on the 11th March 2019
Written by Mission Control

Tomorrow’s innovators get robot ready

Students from schools across Greater Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and the wider Staffordshire area are gearing up to compete in the inaugural FIRST® Tech Challenge UK Championships, taking place in Manchester on Friday 15th March. One winning team from the event will progress to represent the UK in the global championships in the USA in April.

FIRST® Tech Challenge UK is an inclusive robotics programme for ages 12-18, which brings young people together with mentors from industry, in teams up to 15, to design and build a robot to compete in a series of challenges. Collaboration is key and everyone has a part to play throughout the six-month programme – roles are linked to real-world careers and are intended to help young people discover the practical and life skills needed for their future.

An extra-curricular STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) enrichment activity, the FIRST® Tech Challenge UK programme aims to raise aspirations of young people by equipping them with the technical and core life skills they need to take on tomorrow’s jobs. FIRST® UK’s employees and industry partners meet regularly with teams, acting as coaches and career role models, whilst easing the load for educators and forging important relationships between schools and industry.

This year, participating teams were provided with charity bursaries to cover the cost of the robotics kits, phones, and resources, as well as travel awards to take part in the competition. The robotics kits are reusable from year to year providing schools with a sustainable platform for robotics based education.

Whilst the programme attracts 500,000+ participants annually in the USA, this is the first time the initiative has run in the UK. 100 teams, equating to approximately 1500 students, are participating in the inaugural championship events (Peterborough, March 13th and Manchester, March 15th). The winning team from each regional championship will be fully funded to attend the global championships in the USA, where they will go head-to-head with teams from all over world.

Ed Cervantes-Watson, CEO, FIRST® UK, comments: “We’re counting down to one of the biggest student robotics competitions in the UK and we cannot wait to see what the teams have got to bring to the game field. Young people entering education today will be pursuing careers which don’t yet exist. We need to equip tomorrow’s workforce with the technical know-how and core life skills they need to transform their futures – FIRST® Tech Challenge is more than just robots – it’s a platform for young people to become the innovators of tomorrow and ensure no-one is left behind.”

The Department for Education has funded an Essential Life Skills* programme supporting schools within the Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area to take part in the FIRST® Tech Challenge. Co-chair of the Opportunity Area Partnership Board, and Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University, Liz Barnes comments: “Stoke-on-Trent is a city with a proud industrial heritage but too many young people are leaving education without the skills and tools required to access opportunities on their doorstep. Providing access to programmes like FIRST® Tech Challenge helps raise aspirations and unlock potential in young people across the city, particularly those who may be at a disadvantage. The diversity of roles within the teams provides opportunities that all young people can access, and it is particularly encouraging to see such positive uptake across Special Educational Need and Alternative Provider settings. Nonetheless, it is no easy feat, and participating students need to develop a high level of determination and resilience – critical for driving social mobility in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond.”

JCB support the programme providing mentors to teams across the region and volunteers to support the event – Stuart Harper from JCB’s Global Education team says “Beyond the clear and tangible impact on young people – FIRST Tech Challenge provides rich opportunity to engage and develop our talent at JCB, from apprentices and graduates keen enter the business through to the boardroom. The kids aren’t building robots, they’re helping build our workforce.”

The Northern Regional Championship will take place on Friday 15th March at the Concorde Conference Centre, Altrincham, and around 60 teams will be participating.

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