A world class system of technical education

With new plans for T Level qualifications to be in place by September 2023, now is the time for the region’s businesses to start thinking about how they might take this opportunity to attract and develop the talent they need, says Gateshead College

This is the ambition behind the Government’s introduction of T Levels; a simplified system which, alongside reformed Apprenticeships, will ensure young people develop the skills for work and have a positive impact on the nation’s productivity and global competitiveness.

The academic route into higher education via A levels is well known but the perception of vocational and technical education and the path it paves into a career has always been less clear or seen as of lesser value.

Although, and at Gateshead College we would say this, in the very best further education colleges high quality, industry-driven curriculum, underpinned by expert careers advice and guidance, is successfully supporting students into university and work.

T levels have been designed as the technical equivalent of A levels, aiming to offer young people high-quality, classroom- based training, combined with an industry placement of a minimum of 45 days, a significant increase to that currently provided as part of most vocational programmes.

The content has been developed by panels of employers, working with the DfE and the Institute of Apprenticeships to make sure that the qualifications are relevant to the occupations within their industry. Students completing T levels should be equipped to enter skilled employment in their chosen field and continue their training at university or with higher Apprenticeships at levels 4, 5 or 6.

With the first T Levels set to start next year in digital, construction and education, pilots are currently being delivered by a number of high performing providers, including Gateshead College, to test how they work for students, employers and the providers themselves making sure that the resulting qualification is effective and deliverable.

So what does it mean for employers? No-one would argue with the prospect of attracting a more diverse, skilled and work ready stream of talent into their business. High achievers, previously destined to an A level pathway may be more inclined to consider their wider options and this technical route could be more attractive.

It gives employers the opportunity to think about their recruitment practices and talent pipeline; a more structured approach to work placements can provide an opportunity to identify talent and nurture them into the business over a period of time. Some businesses will see great benefit from having an extra pair of hands.

There’s no doubt that the requirement of a 45-day industry placement is putting greater responsibility on employers however, the premise is that it gives students sufficient time to master the essentials, put what they’ve learnt into practice and make a genuine contribution to the workplace. But, clearly, it is not without its challenges.

Students must be engaged in relevant tasks and activities which give them the opportunity to hone their skills.

Our own experience is supported by an independent evaluation by the Institute of Employment Studies. Tracy Foreman, assistant principal at Gateshead College says:

“It must be valuable to students and businesses. We’ve been working with employers to make sure placements are relevant and meaningful, that the process is easy and well managed and crucially, to match them with the right student who has the attitude and attributes to give the most to their business. Paying attention to these details is essential.

“Companies have generally been really receptive and this includes the smaller businesses that may have had reservations but are finding with the right support from the college, they can get real benefits from the experience and are getting the right young people through the door. The process has given us and our employers confidence that this can work and be of real value.”

One size doesn’t fit all. Different models work for different types and size of employer and sector and the type of curriculum. Models include block release, day release and often a blend of both. For example an initial period of block release can help students settle in followed by a schedule of day release.

Some sectors, like the games industry, are bound by non- disclosure agreements and in others, construction for example, health and safety is more of an issue. Some small businesses are simply more restricted because they don’t have much space to accommodate extra staff. The pilot has shown however, that most obstacles can be overcome when the employer and provider work together and the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

The need for a skilled workforce is always high on the agenda when we talk about the prosperity of the region so, with the plan for all the T Level qualifications to be in place by September 2023, now is the time to start thinking about what this could mean for your business and how you might take this opportunity to attract and develop the talent you need to succeed.

Gateshead College