T-level work placements will be ‘incredibly challenging’ for employers, experts warn

30 May 2018 By Emily Burt

Less than one in 10 businesses currently offer a placement suitable for incoming technical qualifications

Less than one in 10 (8 per cent) employers currently offer work experience placements long enough to meet the requirements of the incoming T-levels, a survey published today has found.

The new post-16 qualifications, designed to represent a more technical alternative to A-levels, would require students to undertake a structured, high-quality work placement lasting between 45 and 60 days, allowing them to put into practice the skills they have learned in the classroom. 

However, the survey by City & Guilds and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers found that the vast majority of employers only offer work experience placements much shorter than the qualifications necessitate. Although almost three-quarters of companies (74 per cent) said they were willing to play a greater role in helping students apply their learning in the workplace, the majority (71 per cent) only provide work placements lasting between one and two weeks for 16 to 19-year-olds. 

“Offering a substantial work placement that will enable young people to develop practical skills will set the qualifications apart – but to move from a place where only 8 per cent of employers provide a placement of the appropriate length, to one where they are asking a far larger proportion of businesses to do so, will be incredibly challenging,” said Lizzie Crowley, skills policy adviser at the CIPD.

“A lot of these individuals will be very young, and an employer would have to invest a considerable amount of effort to ensure this placement was of benefit to the company and to the individual. It’s quite a significant ask.”

T-levels form part of the government’s Post-16 Skills Plan, which aims to support young people and adults into sustained skilled employment and close the skills gap. 

Education secretary Damian Hinds announced last week that 52 colleges and post-16 education providers in England would be rolling out the first T-level courses in construction, digital, and education and childcare from September 2020. 

However, one one in five (17 per cent) of the UK employers surveyed felt they had a good understanding of the new qualifications, with business leaders calling on the government to delay on a broader roll-out. 

“Without the proper infrastructure and financial support in place before roll-out, we risk creating cold spots around the country where students simply aren’t able to access a high-quality placement in their chosen area of study,” said Kirstie Donnelly, managing director at the City & Guilds Group.

The majority of both employers (85 per cent) and training providers (66 per cent) said financial support would be essential for them to deliver longer work placements, while Crowley argued that greater flexibility and clarity were needed from the government before the reforms could be implemented. 

“The government needs to clearly articulate what T-level placements are for with regards to skills development, and consider flexibility regarding both the length of placements and the ways placements are structured,” Crowley said. 

“For someone working on a technical specialism like engineering or digital skills, that ability to apply what they have learned in practice can be helpful but, for someone who doesn’t need to develop those harder technical skills inside a workplace, and just requires softer employability skills, the same placement might not work.” 

Responding to the government’s T-level consultation, prime minister Theresa May said the government was delivering “the most significant reform to advanced technical education in 70 years”, with the qualifications forming “a vital part of our modern industrial strategy”. 

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