T-levels may exacerbate skills crisis

May 31, 2018 / Isla MacFarlane
T-levels may exacerbate skills crisis

As the first education providers who will be teaching the much-lauded T-levels are unveiled, concern has been raised over school-leavers swapping books for bricks.

A shakeup in technical education should raise the profile of a construction career; however, is the housebuilding industry ready to take on school leavers?

The first 52 colleges and post-16 providers to teach new T Levels have been were named as Education Secretary Damian Hinds set out his vision for a world-class technical education system.

T Levels have been designed to rival A levels and provide young people with a choice between technical and academic education post 16.

Courses in construction, digital and education and childcare will be first taught from September 2020. A further 22 courses will be rolled out in stages from 2021.

In his response to the T Level consultation, the Education Secretary committed to working with businesses and learning from our international competitors to ensure these new qualifications lead to a generational shift in technical education.

The Prime Minister responded, “Everyone should be able to have access to an education that suits them, but we know that for those that don’t choose to go to university, the routes into further technical and vocational training can be hard to navigate.

“That’s why we’re making the most significant reform to advanced technical education in 70 years to ensure young people have gold standard qualifications open to them whichever route they choose.”

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said, “T Levels represent a once in a lifetime opportunity to reform technical education in this country so we can rival the world’s best performing systems.

“For too long young people have not had a genuine choice about their future aged 16. Whilst A levels provide a world class academic qualification, many technical education courses are undervalued by employers and don’t always provide students with the skills they need to secure a good job – that has to change.”

However, the government must be realistic about the capabilities and work-readiness of students who have completed construction T Levels, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said, “The idea that a student who has completed a T Level in bricklaying is able to call themselves a qualified bricklayer is not credible. The government must be realistic about how much can be achieved in two years of largely college-based learning.”

Although T Levels include a three-month work placement, when the rest of the individual’s knowledge and skills are acquired in the classroom, in construction they will need more time onsite, post-T Level, before they can and should describe themselves as being qualified in that trade. “Small and medium-sized construction firms, which do the bulk of training in our industry, would rather view T Levels as a rich pool of talent through which to find apprentices,” Berry said.

More positively, the government has listened to the concerns of the construction industry and stated its intention to make work placements as flexible as possible. In construction, work placements are not popular or common so persuading sufficient numbers of employers to offer these opportunities will be challenging.

“The government being open to the three-month placement being achieved through more than one employer is therefore vital,” Berry said. “However, to ensure work placements are as attractive as possible, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) should consider offering financial incentives to employers through CITB Grant.

“We know, for example, that a typical construction SME is likely to shell out an additional £500 for their Employers’ Liability insurance because of having a young person onsite for three months. This is on top of the resource needed to closely supervise that young person. If employers can be financially incentivised somehow, it would be helpful.”

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