Although the Government’s decision to delay introducing the first T-levels will have brought a something of a sigh of relief among many in the sector, with the decision only affecting the first two pathfinder routes, the stay of grace could be seen by providers not so much as a reason to put off implementing a T-Levels strategy, but rather as a welcome opportunity to make sure that they really are ready for them when they come in. After all, in planning terms, 2020 is still not that far away.

In previous pieces we looked at a couple of T-Level issues, both of which are connected with the fact that the new system is intended to bring about a skills system that better serves the needs of employers. The first of those pieces looked at the importance of identifying local employer demand, and of shaping a curriculum that aligns with that demand. The second piece again looked at the importance of identifying local employer demand, but this time from the perspective of work placements. But there is a third issue that I want to cover off as well, and that is student engagement.

The introduction of T-Levels clearly represents a dramatic change to the way that technical education is delivered in this country.

But in all the talk about meeting the needs of employers, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day it is people that are going to fill those needs – not a system. Just as T-Levels are no doubt going to present a great many problems for providers, we need to remember that most school-age children are presently blissfully unaware of the changes that are coming.

In a very real sense, it will therefore be a necessity for providers to educate young people about the new qualifications. But might I suggest that rather than looking at it as something that needs to be done, we instead cast it in a different light and see it as a golden opportunity. What do I mean by that?

In one sense, the very newness of T-Levels is a great opportunity for a provider’s marketing team to shout loudly to young people in their area about these brand new qualifications and where they can go to do them. But there’s much more than this. If the whole purpose of T-Levels is to create a skills system that is aligned with local employer need, surely the real marketing opportunity here is for a provider to show young people how the T-Levels it provides can lead them to a good career. In other words, the key here is not promoting courses; but rather promoting the link between courses and employment.

Why is this so important? Well, it’s a basic fact of human nature that where people have a clear sense of direction, they are far more likely to be focused on what they are doing. Provider after provider will testify to the truth of that, since one of the major causes of students dropping out is that they lack that clear sense of where the learning they are doing is leading them. But by informing young people of the career realities of the labour market in their region, and then showcasing the connection between T-Levels and those careers, a provider can map out a clear pathway to success, and so increase the likelihood that students will stay for the duration of the course.

It has been said that the current Government’s approach to skills is all about putting employers in the driving seat.

There may be some truth in that, but the creation of a new system that aligns skills to employer demand, means that there are plenty of opportunities for providers themselves to take the lead. This is one instance. By linking its T-Levels with the realities of the labour market in its region, and then demonstrating this connection to students who ultimately want to learn to earn, a provider can better engage with the young people in their region, and give them that clear sense of direction that what they are doing is going to pay off.

Of course taking this approach is also hugely empowering to young people. The more knowledge they are given about the career realities of their local economy, the more they can make informed decisions about their future. The more they can see how doing a particular T-Level is likely to benefit them in the long run, the more enthused and empowered they are going to feel having made their decision.

In other words, with careful planning and good use of LMI, T-Levels can become a win-win-win. Employers start getting the skills they really need; education providers promote their institution as the go-to place for a good career after graduating; and students are better engaged, more aware, and ultimately more likely to get into that career that they really want.

Andy Durman, Managing Director Emsi UK

Emsi UK are hosting a webinar on 27th September, where we'll be covering the issue of T-Levels and student engagement more fully. Register for this free event by clicking here.

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