Verity Davidge, head of education & skills policy at Make UK, says: “For too long, vocational education has remained in the shadows of academic learning. Industry supports the introduction of T Levels, which have the potential to boost technical education and create a credible vocational education route for young people, and deliver the practical and technical skills industry so desperately needs.
“However, the introduction of T Levels is another fundamental change to our education system, which has been subject to constant chop and change, often leaving employers bemused,” she continues. “Currently, there is a worrying lack of awareness in industry, with low levels of knowledge even among those who have heard of them. To avoid a sense of déjà vu with the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, Government must continue to work more closely with business groups to boost awareness throughout industry. The programme is at risk of failing if employers aren’t aware or on board, particularly when it comes to offering mandatory work placements.”
T Levels in engineering and manufacturing are due to be introduced in 2022. The aim of the courses is to simplify the landscape for vocational qualifications and provide a route into skilled employment after two years’ study. Each T Level will be made up of five key elements and include mandatory work placements.
Although Industry is behind the introduction of T Levels, the survey showed that almost two-thirds of companies (65%) hadn’t heard of them, while more than a quarter (28%) had heard of them but only with limited knowledge. Furthermore, 40% of companies are unaware of what is required of them when it comes to providing work placements.
The survey does show that manufacturers are willing to step up and offer work placements, with one-third prepared to offer them in their current form and a further fifth (21%) prepared to do so if they were more flexible. However, with all the other issues that companies are facing, in particular Brexit, 60% of companies feared having the capacity to manage work placements, especially as over half (55%) said they wouldn’t have time given they are already managing young people through schemes such as internships and work experience.
Manufacturers do see potential for T Levels, but not as a way to move into skilled employment as the Government had initially proposed. Instead, almost half (43%) of manufacturers see T Level students moving on to a higher level apprenticeship, with 30% suggesting T Level learners go on to higher education.
In response, Make UK is urging the Government to step up efforts in raising the profile of T Levels throughout industry or risk failing to engage with employers on what is another fundamental change to the education system. Furthermore, Make UK has made the following specific recommendations:
- Make placements flexible so as to increase their take up. This strategy could be achieved by using training academies that replicate the real world of work, rather than having to be on an actual shop floor.
- Allow T Level students to undertake their placement with more than one employer. This move will encourage greater take up among SMEs unable to deliver a three-month placement and give learners greater exposure to wider industry.
- Increase support for workplaces offering placements by matching funding support for providers to employers.
- Include a ‘work readiness’ module to T Levels, which would ensure that young people are better prepared before undertaking their placement with an employer.
- Take steps to simplify T Levels, especially around grading. This move would help secure employer buy-in, as well as make the qualification more attractive to the next generation.
- Take greater action to get universities to accept T Level students.