T levels – Building a better future for the construction sector
We are in the middle of a revolution for professional and technical education in the UK. If this is properly embraced by the sector, it could help to address the decades of skills gaps we have suffered with. UKCO speaks with Edward Shaw, Construction Industry Manager – City & Guilds.
Key to the changes in technical education, was the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, which only larger businesses pay into, but businesses of all sizes in the sector can access the funding. In construction, where the number of SMEs is very high and their capacity to train is often low, this could be a game changer. Large businesses can share their levy with their supply chains to ensure that they are getting the very best services from their suppliers (as well as engendering loyalty). In addition, SMEs can apply for levy funds directly from the remaining funds left in the DAS system (The Digital Apprenticeship Service), simply by making a ten per cent contribution themselves.
While many employers in the construction industry may not be aware of it, there is another significant change afoot: a new technical qualification is also set to be introduced in 2020. T Levels are billed as the smart vocational alternative to A Levels and a high-quality pathway to employment, higher education or apprenticeships. This could be invaluable in addressing the barriers we have faced in repositioning construction as a career of choice for young people.
These reforms couldn’t have come at a better time for the UK’s construction sector. The industry needs to deliver on high-profile infrastructure projects, such as HS2, as well as supporting the UK’s housebuilding aspirations. As an industry that is heavily reliant on an aging workforce and workers from overseas, Brexit means that it is crucial that we develop a sustainable and home-grown talent pipeline – and T Levels can help us do that.
Despite their potential, vocational pathways like T levels will need a helping hand if they are to be considered a viable – and attractive – route into employment. T Levels have a big job to do, and streamlining the current system increases their chance of success, but there are some other big considerations for the Government to take into account to ensure that T Levels meet their potential. At City and Guilds, we recently submitted a consultation paper around T Levels to the policy makers, focusing on five key recommendations:
T Levels need to be seen as an attractive pathway into employment
T Levels are set to roll out from 2020, meaning that young people who are now in year 9 at school will be eligible to take the new qualifications. For take-up to occur at the rate the industry requires, the Government needs to direct its efforts towards promoting the benefits of T Levels and explaining exactly what they are and who they are aimed at. For a young person and – importantly – their parents and teachers to find T Levels attractive, it is imperative that they understand how they differ from apprenticeships and how they help a young person to progress into further study or work.
The success of T Levels depends on joined up thinking across educational pathways
Apprenticeships have undergone sweeping reforms, with the introduction of new standards and a shift to employer ownership. With that in mind, it is crucial that there is joined-up thinking across technical education so that young people can progress into T Levels and onto apprenticeships without repeating content. This also applies across academic and technical education. It is important that the Government does not force a binary choice on young people, but instead ensures that vocational pathways, such as T Levels, are seen by students, parents and providers as offering a route into higher education.
Employability skills must be top of the agenda
Employers tell us time and again that there needs to be a much greater emphasis on employability skills in education. The implementation of T Levels gives us the chance to design a programme that provides a consistent and robust approach to teaching and assessing employability skills. It is important, therefore, that we take this opportunity to agree a common framework that will help prepare young people for work.
Employers and awarding organisations need to work together
Employers know best what skills and occupational competencies they need – and we support a move towards increased employer involvement in the system to ensure T Levels meet their needs.
However, employers don’t always have the time or the expertise to design qualification content or assessments. At City and Guilds, we think that this should be done in collaboration with experts, such as awarding organisations, who have experience developing qualifications.
Work placements need rethinking
The work placement element is an exciting proposition that sets T Levels apart from other classroom-based offers. However, work placements will need proper investment and support to succeed. There are also challenges in delivering work placements for 16 – 18-year olds in the construction sector which will need support and investment from the Government to be overcome. This is particularly true for SMEs which don’t have the resources available to manage such programmes.
The timing and length of these placements also needs to be reassessed to offer more flexibility so that they work for all. This could involve the placement taking place in stages throughout the two-year programme, in a block at the end of the programme – when the learners are 18 – or between T Levels and an apprenticeship as a sandwich placement.
Now is the time for the construction industry to come together and influence this process while it has the chance, securing the future of the industry for generations to come. If the industry can get this right, it will be able to develop the much-needed home-grown talent it needs to allow the sector to meet demand in the UK and to compete on the world stage.
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