T Levels have been broadly welcomed as a long-overdue antidote to the academic bias of post-16 education in the UK. They will allow students to choose ‘routes’ (such as engineering) and then select ‘pathways’ that allow them to specialise further. Each course will require a mandatory three-month work experience placement to be completed.
Courses in construction, digital and education & childcare will be first taught from September 2020. A further 22 courses will be rolled out in stages from 2021. These will cover sectors such as finance & accounting, engineering & manufacturing, and creative & design.
If one were feeling churlish, one could of course question why, when UK engineering is in the grip of a skills shortage, the engineering route has not been prioritised. However, that is a relatively minor gripe about an otherwise very welcome development.
T-Levels offer an opportunity for smaller firms for whom the costs of apprenticeship schemes are prohibitive to source trained staff with relatively little outlay in terms of time or money. In that sense, they do address a very specific need. With most of the training taking place in the classroom rather than the workplace, this greatly reduces the burden on companies.
Nonetheless, if T-Levels are to succeed, they must be embraced by industry. Suitable and meaningful work placements are going to have to be made available to students and real training offered.
Industry has rightly complained for many years that suitable, joined-up technical training is not offered by government. While one may quibble at elements of this solution, it does represent real and substantive action. It now falls to industry to do its bit to make it work.