Posted on the 25th September 2019
Written by Patrice

FIRST Tech Challenge UK 2019-20 kicks off at Bloomberg’s European HQ

Last year was the pilot, this year we’re going big!

Kicking off at Bloomberg’s European HQ, the world’s largest robotics competition has officially launched nationwide to make STEM less intimidating, more accessible and diverse for young people in the UK

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We’re proud to announce the official launch of FIRST Tech Challenge in the UK, following our pilot season last year.

Our charity was born in 2018 out of a global movement that began three decades ago in the USA by Segway inventor Dean Kamen. Fast forward to today and Kamen predicts FIRST Tech Challenge UK will achieve the highest density of teams outside of the USA – that’s pretty awesome!

This season, we’ll see teams of 10-15 young people aged 12-18 design, build and programme a robot to complete a Star Wars-themed challenge: SKYSTONETM. By May 2020, up to 2,000 young people will compete at London’s Copper Box Arena with five teams progressing to represent the UK at the FIRST World Championships in Detroit, USA.

Why bigger is better

We established FIRST Tech Challenge UK to address the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills gap, increase social mobility and build career aspirations. Let’s face it, the UK is facing a profound challenge that we cannot and should not expect to solve alone. Reported by Engineering UK, over 203,000 engineers are needed each year to meet the nation’s growing demand, with an annual shortfall of 83,000-110,000 – a shortfall that is echoed throughout the STEM landscape. Meanwhile, a lack of diversity and skills feeding the pipeline is harming the UK’s ability to remain globally competitive. This challenge is bigger than us or any other STEM programme in the UK. We need to innovate and we need to do so as a unified force for change.

By collaborating with industry partners in STEM and critical friends who share an ambition to bridge the gap between the classroom and the workplace, we can collectively impact as many young people as possible. To accelerate our mission, we kicked off the new FIRST Tech Challenge season at Bloomberg’s European HQ last week, convening figureheads across industry, government, civil society and philanthropy to delve into the challenges and opportunities around building a strong pathway towards STEM.

FIRST UK CEO Ed Cervantes-Watson presents to guests at Bloomberg's HQ
As our CEO, Ed Cervantes-Watson shared with guest attendees:

“We’re building more than robots. We’re building a diverse, and inclusive pipeline of young people equipped with the technical knowledge and soft skills they will need to take on tomorrow’s challenges. We must support our educators with industry role models to bridge the gap between the workplace and the classroom – to prepare young people for tomorrow’s jobs, many of which don’t yet exist.”

Guest speaker, Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology and Education, UCL, stressed the intrinsic benefits of building ‘Science Capital’ –  the knowledge, skills, attitudes and experiences which lead young people to pursue STEM careers or not:

“We recognise the STEM skills gap as being a major issue facing the economy and that’s important, but for us it’s much more than that; it’s about the real social justice case for the importance of diversity in STEM, which makes for better STEM and better society. 

“We see STEM not just as a destination but as a really important and empowering vehicle that can help young people achieve their potential and also support communities – providing a more cohesive, productive and socially just society.

Professor Louise Archer presents Science Capital concept

“We are particularly excited by interventions that foreground social justice and pay attention to issues of diversity – targeting young people from disadvantaged communities which offer a chance for sustained engagement. It gives [young people] the chance to do longer-term projects involving problem-solving, teamwork and other things we see as really valuable.”

So the more young people we reach through our programme, the better opportunity we have to build Science Capital and help young people make informed choices about their future.

Following our pilot season, we’re confident the programme works and the sterling track record from the US sets a good precedent to influence change in the UK. Last season, FIRST broke records as the largest robotics competition engaging over 570,000 young people globally and reported that 75% of FIRST participants are in STEM education or careers today. 

FIRST Founder, Dean Kamen shares high hopes for the UK, stating:

FIRST Founder Dean Kamen sets scale of ambition for FIRST Tech Challenge UK

“We’re very excited about the phenomena of growth we’ve witnessed over 30 years in the US, but it’s now happening at a much faster pace in the UK. If the growth continues the way it has, then I suspect over the next couple of years the UK will have the highest density of FIRST teams anywhere outside of the United States.”

No pressure, then! But we’re not in this alone… there’s an army of support around us.


Growing a blooming marvellous network 

We’re proud to be supported by phenomenal industry partners who shape our engagement with technology today. Without our partners Arconic Foundation, Arm, Baker Hughes, Bloomberg, Department for Education, Disney, Industrial Cadets, STEM Learning, and Qualcomm we wouldn’t have a powerhouse of industry expertise to build aspirations amongst the young people we serve.

Bloomberg is now supporting us in the UK, after 15 years as a global supporter of FIRST programmes, deploying its leading engineers to mentor FIRST Tech Challenge teams – transferring core skills, from programming to problem solving and we can’t wait to see them in action.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see Bloomberg Engineers inspiring and mentoring tomorrow’s scientists and technologists. We are proud to expand our partnership with FIRST UK to help reach talented students across the country. The young people in this programme will use the skills and experiences to grow up and change the world. It’s incredible to be even a small part of that”, said Tom Rushall, Bloomberg London’s Head of Engineering. 


What’s in store this season?

The season kicks off this week and will run until May 2020. Teams will meet weekly, take on industry roles and receive support from an industry mentor. Regional tournaments will take place in January and February as teams compete in alliances and present to win awards from product design to community outreach. The top 100 teams will progress to the UK National Championships at the Copper Box Arena in London’s Olympic Park in March, while five award-winning teams will earn a place to represent the UK at the FIRST World Championships in Detroit in May.

In partnership with Disney’s philanthropic initiative ‘Star WarsTM: Force for Change’, this year’s theme is ‘FIRST RISE: The Force is Building’, tasking teams to innovate in the built environment. The FIRST Tech Challenge game, SKYSTONETM challenges teams to build a sustainable city that’s out of this world.

Already supported by many Bloomberg engineers and other industry talent, FIRST Tech Challenge UK’s community of dedicated mentors and event volunteers – known as ‘Game Changers’ – are the engine behind the programme, investing their time and energy to support teams throughout the season. FIRST UK predicts that on average, every young person taking part will gain 60 contact hours with industry figures and will automatically receive Industrial Cadets Accreditation.

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There are still places to register a team this season with funded kits available to help all young people take part. Rise to the challenge and register a team, volunteer as a mentor, or help out at events.

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