Manufacturers' solution to the T Levels conundrum

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Representing some 20,000 manufacturing and engineering companies means we’ve got easy access to a bunch of problem-solving engineers. So when we consulted with them about T Levels we worked together to identify the problems and come up with the solution…

Remind me what T Levels are…

T Levels are a two-year classroom based technical study programme, designed to be an alternative to studying A Levels at the age of 16. A mixture of academic and technical education is achieved by including:
a new technical qualification designed for each T level;

  • a 3 month work placement;
  • Maths, English and Digital core element;
  • other occupation-specific requirements set out by the relevant T level panel; and
  • any further employability, enrichment and pastoral requirements.

In the end, the student leaves with a T Level within their chosen route and pathway e.g. Manufacturing and Engineering and Manufacturing Processes. This is all explained in our previous blog… have a read here.

 

1. What do manufacturers like about them?

- Technical education is just as valuable as academic education

Manufacturers certainly support the Government’s ambition to reform technical education in a bid to boost its esteem and encourage more young people to consider vocational education as a credible alternative to academic education. It has been long overdue given the current skills shortage our industry faces - 72% of manufacturers are concerned about finding the skills they need for their businesses.

- We all agree on the importance English, Maths and Digital skills

Including a core component that means all T Level students study English, Maths and Digital skills alongside technical learning has also pleased manufacturers. In 2015/16, only 48% of students left schools with at least grade 5 in GCSE Maths, and 48% in GCSE English – making sure students have a solid grounding in these subjects is important for further study. Not to forget Digital skills – digital fluency and its application in the workplace is becoming ever more important for manufacturers. Skills such as coding and data programming are highly desirable and will become more important as more and more manufacturers choose to automate processes.

- Experiencing the real world of work is always valuable

When you speak to manufacturers, a lack of industry experience is often cited as a reason for their skills shortage. Including a work placement would mean that T Level students will have a chance to put the theoretical knowledge they’ve learnt into practice. It also acts as a useful probationary period for an employer looking to recruit a T Level learner onto an apprenticeship. But as we’ve learnt from the past (Young Apprenticeship Programme, Study Programmes and Diplomas) this is no easy task – more on this below.

 

2. What are manufacturers see as the challenges with the current model?

- Are we really simplifying the system?

The Government are attempting to “…radically simplify” the vocational educational landscape, by introducing T Levels. The current myriad of qualification is confusing and often puts young pupils off from pursuing vocational education. However, the introduction of T Levels in their current form does not help simplify the system. For example, it is not clear what the difference between pursuing an apprenticeship and doing a T Level is. It is also is not clear what the student journey for undertaking a T Level is, what they achieve in the end and then subsequently what that then signals to an employer.

Then let’s move onto the T Level certificate. In its current form it’s confusing and over-complicated. It draws on too many different grading system making it incredibly difficult for an employer to distinguish between candidates. In line with the idea of simplification, the certificate should also be clear, making it unambiguous what a student has achieved.

- Will delivering work placements be doable?

In our conversations with manufacturers, delivering the 3-month work placement will also be a challenge. Whilst the idea of industry experience is great, actually delivering it will be difficult, especially for SMEs who have previously taken work experience students. A larger company may be able to draw on existing programmes they have and build this in, but SMEs have limited human and monetary resources. Government will need to make sure that there is enough supply to meet demand for these placements, and those that have been involved in making this happen previously will know it can be somewhat of a challenge. There are two buzz words here – flexibility and support.

- The end goal?

The current model for T Levels could leave students too specialised within their chosen route and pathway at an early age This could make it difficult to go onto to further vocational study e.g. an advanced apprenticeship, without having to redo much of the earlier work. This then defeats the point of doing a T Level! For T Levels to be a success the Government need to make it really clear what a T Level is a stepping stone too, and the difference between all other paths.

 

3. How does EEF and its army of problem solving engineers improve the current T level model?

- Include a ‘Work Readiness’ module

As part of the core component, students should study a work readiness module which will gear the student up for the world of work – things such as CV building, interview preparation and health and safety in the workplace. Adding the ‘Work Readiness’ module is also highly desirable to manufacturers who have expressed concerns that young people are often not ready to work.

- Don’t specialise too early

A better model would be one where in the first year of study, students learn the core component and the generic route specific knowledge, e.g. manufacturing and engineering knowledge. In the second year, they would then learn pathway specific knowledge, e.g. manufacturing processes. This would open up more doors such as going onto university with a handful of UCAS points, or fast tracking onto an advanced apprenticeship.

- T Level certificate

The overall T Level certificate should simply state, pass (or fail), merit or distinction. This will visibly signal to manufacturers what standard the T Level student is at. A transcript, giving a breakdown of the various components, which are then themselves graded, can also accompany it.

- Progression

As our alternative model in our submission shows, the choice for young people at the age of 16 should be between three different paths – which all ultimately lead to a career in manufacturing and engineering.

Our recommendations... To make these reforms a success, the Government should ensure T Levels meet these seven principles:
A. Credibility - The implementation of T Levels must be an equivalently recognised pathway to a career in manufacturing and engineering as A Levels.
B. Clarity - The pathway to achieving a T Level should be clear, allowing a student the potential to progress onto both higher education - university, or vocational education – apprenticeships.
C. Capital - Where the government has committed funds towards the delivery of T Levels it must be targeted. This includes direct support for employers towards the delivery of work placements.
D. Comparability - T Levels should command the equivalent UCAS point as A Levels, allowing those students to go onto higher education. T Levels should also fast-track learners onto an advanced or higher level apprenticeship, when they may have otherwise undertaken a lower level apprenticeship.
E. Longevity - The Government must work with all parties to make T Levels a success in the long term. T Levels must not be susceptible to political chop and change.
F. Be employer-led - The design of T Levels must remain employer-led now and in the future.
G. Balance breadth and depth - Learners must acquire a breadth as well as depth of study to ensure they have transferable skills to move across sectors, and potentially industries.
Have a read of our full submission to Government below, and let us know your thoughts.

 

Author

Education and Skills Policy Advisor

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