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Pooling intelligent talent and realising that technology is all about people – Maggie Philbin OBE, TeenTech CEO


Maggie Philbin OBE has been a reporter in television and radio for over 30 years on a broad range of programmes and is best known for her work in science and technology. Alongside journalism, she works closely with several organisations to find ways of improving the career paths of women in science and engineering. Maggie set up TeenTech in 2008 to give young students the opportunity to meet and be inspired by people working in technology, and she was awarded with an OBE in 2016.

Maggie Philbin OBE
Maggie Philbin OBE

“…Every year, over 50% of event attendees and participants in the TeenTech Award and TeenTech City of Tomorrow programmes are female. We have no problems attracting and retaining the interest of female teenagers…”

Pooling intelligent talent

TeenTech helps young people understand the opportunities in the science, technology and engineering industries, no matter what their gender or social background. Our programmes are carefully planned to engage teachers and parents as they are the main influencers in career decisions. We also support companies, councils, colleges and universities, providing them with strategies of engagement and ways to develop approaches which work well with young people. I am the co-founder and CEO.

Ten years ago when we ran the first TeenTech event I had no idea how it would grow into an organisation reaching thousands of young people every year. I have been so inspired by the young people I have met and by the enthusiastic and brilliant support provided by the companies who work with us.

The pooling of so much intelligent thinking and authentic experience is the reason for the success of the programme. It’s very much a collective effort. We do a lot of listening and we have always collected honest feedback on the impact of our work. 

Teen tech alumni

TeenTech alumni consistently shine at national and international level. In 2015 a young TeenTech Award team from Greenock were invited to take their winning idea to Silicon Valley. In 2016, a TeenTech student from a school in a deprived area of Wales earned the coveted Young Engineer of the Year award, becoming one of three to represent the UK in USA. In 2017, another TeenTech student from Leicestershire won the coveted title and in 2018 a TeenTech student with narcolepsy was runner up and was also selected to represent the UK.

In October 2016 two TeenTech Young Ambassadors were presented with Teen Hero awards by BBC Radio 1 at Wembley for their work. A TeenTech project won BT’s Young Pioneer Award in 2016 with another nominated for 2017 and several TeenTech students have now been awarded Arkwight and Bloomberg scholarships.

Most importantly, many young people are now considering careers in science, technology and engineering who previously felt these opportunities were ‘not for them’. Teachers value our classroom materials which capture young people’s imagination, especially those who have showed no previous serious interest in science, technology or engineering and praise an approach which provides ongoing opportunities for focussed and enlightening interaction with companies – both local and global.

As one student said: “TeenTech has helped me see that technology is all about people.”

TeenTech Awards

The TeenTech Awards are for UK students from 11-16 (Years 7 to 11) and 17-19 (Years 12 to 13) working in teams of up to three to look at problems large and small to see if they can find a better way of doing things.

This programme is supported by leading global science, technology and engineering companies and the aim is to help young people not only understand the opportunities in exciting industries, but to develop the skills needed to take advantage of them. The awards are designed to provide real benefit to every school. We’re now entering the seventh year of the Awards programme and it’s very gratifying to see so many schools and supporting companies who were with us at the very beginning growing their involvement year on year.

The programme is designed to encourage young people who may never have thought about a career in tech to see how they might very much enjoy working in this area. We encourage a cross-curricular approach as we believe students need opportunities to develop digital skills no matter what subject they may be taking.

We have just announced the 60 teams who will bring their projects to The Royal Society on 25th June. Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, ocean pollution, green travel, smart food and the future of our education policy are just some of the issues tackled by the teenage finalists. It’s a very inspiring day, especially for all the judges and VIP visitors.

Over 50% of entries from girls

TeenTech-AwardsThis year over 1500 students have taken part and we are always blown away by the standard of the entries. Students really enjoy the whole process and it’s great to see not only how they participate year after year but how very keen they are to support others.

We always have a very strong number of entries from girls – consistently over 50%. More and more schools are choosing to embed the awards within their curriculum as they see the real difference they make to the uptake of STEM subjects. We’ve also seen an increase in the number of 16-19 entries as schools recognise the powerful networking opportunities for students.

Companies need to make changes

We have always focussed on diversity and deliberately placed our focussed work in areas of social disadvantage. I think it’s very important to address inclusivity in its broadest sense and this approach has certainly paid off when it comes to gender.

Every year, over 50% of event attendees and participants in the TeenTech Award and TeenTech City of Tomorrow programmes are female. We have no problems attracting and retaining the interest of female teenagers. However, I do feel that many companies need to understand that if they really want to increase the diversity of their workforce at all levels then they do need to be prepared to make changes.

It isn’t possible to run a company in the same way and expect the balance of the workforce to change simply because you would like it to, but if you are serious about wanting to change it’s striking how quickly some organisations achieve this. I believe things are starting to change.

Challenging the culture of measurement

I think we need to make some radical changes. If we have a system which isn’t delivering for students, teachers or employers, then we need to look at what would make a difference. It’s not just about exam grades. And we certainly shouldn’t be eliminating or marginalising practical work because it’s too difficult to assess.

Far too much talent is being lost as a culture of measurement derails important opportunities for learning and inspiration. For instance, I’ve seen how students can derive real benefit from student led, project-based learning and we need to provide schools and students with more time for this.

We also need to reward the teachers who are going the extra mile and providing opportunities for their students which they know will make a difference to them not only in terms of formal learning, but their whole future. We badge schools as Silver or Gold “Centres of Creativity and Innovation” to recognise their efforts in this respect. Look out for schools with those badges!

Coming up

We are about to begin a very special year of celebration and reflection to mark ten years of TeenTech. We’ll be sharing our learning and embarking on some very ambitious new projects.