During the recent Annual Apprenticeship Conference in Birmingham, I picked up three major points about T-Levels. Number one, everybody is talking about them. Number two, in the midst of all the other changes going on, people generally don’t want to have to think about them right now. And number three, most people are at a loss to know how they can prepare for them.
Yet the Government is adamant that they are going to happen. In his recent Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed £500million of funding towards them, and that they would be introduced from Autumn 2019. In other words, here we have a problem that education providers could really do without, on top of everything else they’re currently having to deal with, and yet not dealing with it is not an option.
But how can education providers start to prepare for their introduction? As with any problem that needs a solution, the best place to begin is by asking a straightforward Why question: Why has the Government decided to introduce T-Levels? The answer to this, according to the Post-16 Skills Plan, is that they are intended to create:
“A dynamic, high-quality technical option, which is grounded in engagement with employers, fits soundly with the rest of the system and is responsive to the changing needs of the economy.”
The fundamental point about T-Levels is therefore that they should reflect the specific demands of local employers and regional economies. This means that simply introducing T-Levels without first identifying whether they are needed would defeat the object and ensure they fail to produce the skills that employers really need. But after asking the why question, the next question to ask is how can we ensure that they do achieve their purpose?
The answer is to first map the 15 T-Level career routes to occupations. For instance, if we were to look at the Digital route, the occupations it relates to are as follows: IT operations technicians; IT user support technicians; Web design and development professionals; Telecommunications engineers; IT engineers; and TV, video and audio engineers.
Having done this, we can then group them together and map them to our labour market data for any area of the country, either at LEP region level, County/Unitary Authority Level, or even down to Local Authority Level. The purpose of this is to establish the level of demand for T-levels in that route. For instance, the following graph shows a comparison of annual openings for three T-level routes in the Solent LEP Region from 2016-2021:
In addition, we can look at the variations in demand for each of the individual occupations within each route. For instance, the graph below shows the breakdown of occupations within the Digital T-Level route in the Solent LEP region:
What this approach means is that that any education provider in the country can establish the level of demand for each of the T-Level routes in their region (one group of colleges is already taking this approach, which you can read about here). This then means that providers are well placed to align their T-Level curriculum with the needs of local employers and the regional economy, which can be achieved by a gap analysis mapping courses to demand.
T-Levels are definitely on the Government’s radar, even if they are not yet on the radar of many education providers. Preparing for their introduction is therefore a necessity, rather than a luxury.