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Employers unprepared for T-Levels

Many employers feel they don't have a good understanding of T-Levels, according to City & Guilds

With two years to go until their introduction, just 17% of UK employers feel that they have a good understanding of T-Levels, with almost half (49%) rating their understanding as poor. Additionally, 54% of education providers rate their understanding as either middling or poor.

T-Levels were announced in the 2017 Spring Budget, with the aim to replace 15,000 technical qualifications with 15 vocational routes, including construction, creative and design, digital, engineering and manufacturing, health, and science.

A key part of the T-Level programme is a mandatory 45-day work placement. Currently most employers (71%) and training providers (74%) offer work placements of one to two weeks for 16- to 19-year-olds. Only 8% of employers provide placements of the duration required for T-Levels, meaning a step change will be required to accommodate these placements in industry, the research stated.

In addition there will need to be a significant increase in the number of work placement students employers take on, with an estimated 180,000 placements needed per year.

More encouragingly, most employers expressed support for this part of the new qualification, with almost three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed saying they are willing to play a greater role in helping students apply their learning in a workplace setting. However, both employers and training providers cited concerns around the implementation of the work placements.

More than two-thirds of training providers (67%) and more than a third of employers (40%) agreed that 45- to 60-day placements would be fit for purpose for most occupations, but believe a degree of flexibility will be required to account for sector, company and regional variations.

Most employers (83%) and training providers (66%) agreed that a mandatory content framework should be developed for work placements to ensure consistency and quality

Kirstie Donnelly, managing director at the City & Guilds Group, said that T-Levels could be vital in tackling skills shortages if implemented properly. “Skills gaps and skills shortages are severely hampering UK productivity and T-Levels have the potential to help solve these, [by] providing young people with high-quality technical education to both improve their employability and create a better-skilled workforce,” she said.

But she called on the government to work with employers to ensure the success of the qualification. “While it’s encouraging that the government has listened to the concerns of employers and the education sector and signalled a move towards greater flexibility for work placements in its consultation response, questions still remain around how to ensure enough employers are engaged and ready to take on the number of young people needed," said Donnelly.

"Without the proper infrastructure and financial support in place before rollout we risk creating cold spots around the country where students aren’t able to access a high-quality placement in their chosen area of study."

Neil Morrison, HR director at Severn Trent, said that T-Levels are a positive step forward, and that "dedication" from employers is required to implement them properly. “We rely on technical skills and welcome anything in this area," he said. "T-Levels feel like a really positive, progressive step forward.

"People might be worried about the relationship between employers and educators [but] there are already lots of informal connections, and T-Levels are a way of formalising those relationships. The devil is in the application; if you’re focused, committed, and have a financial imperative, then you can make it happen. It just needs a bit of dedication," he said.

Cindy Rampersaud, senior vice president for BTECs and apprenticeships at Pearson Plc and former further education commissioner, added that she welcomed the "parity of esteem" between academic and occupational pathways. But she added that more could be done to raise awareness of the qualification.

"This report indicates there is still more to do to raise awareness of T-Levels with key stakeholders and gain full engagement to ensure a successful implementation," she said, adding that "the success of these reforms will require the whole sector – awarding organisations, employers, colleges, schools, parents and government – to be engaged in shaping and delivering a successful vision and outcome for learners."

The T-Levels work placement research was undertaken by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers' research team, commissioned by City & Guilds, and was completed by 332 further education colleges and independent training providers and 81 employers.