Cerian Ayres, National Head of Technical Education, Education and Training Foundation

As the detail of T Levels has been announced, a considerable amount of attention has been focused on the industry placement element of the courses.

As we all now understand, these placements will be a major part of a T Level, requiring students to undertake hundreds of hours of experience appropriate to their course, acquiring up-to-date knowledge and an in-depth insight into careers in their chosen industry sector.

The importance of the placement has been underscored repeatedly and those working in provider institutions across the country will be giving careful thought as to how they will be structured and secured.

The Value of Industry Insight Placement for Teachers

But the value of placements in industry is not simply confined to T Level students, as feedback from the Education and Training Foundation’s T Level Professional Development (TLPD) offer attests.

Teachers, industry placement officers and heads of department at institutions who will provide the new courses have been getting in on the act, thanks to opportunities provided under the TLPD Industry Insights banner.

The offer has provided four types of opportunity:

  1. Work shadowing that entails the observation of industry colleagues to gain a better understanding of the workplace,
  2. Work placements that are slightly longer and involve both observation and interaction,
  3. Staff placements in industry that are even longer and provide a more immersive experience, and
  4. Industry-led workshops, practice and development and information, advice and guidance workshops, led by employers, that facilitate the sharing of knowledge.

Participants have been overwhelmingly positive in their appraisal of these opportunities, noting not just the overall benefits of their participation, but also identifying the specific impacts they anticipate it having on their delivery of T Levels.

The experience of Carol Archer, Head of Health and Social Care at St Thomas More Catholic School, illustrates the point:

“Attending this placement in industry provided me with an opportunity to discuss some aspects of the T Level draft content with early years specialists and appreciate the very different demands faced by staff working in this environment.

"I wanted to appreciate the challenges faced by staff and then use this experience in the planning of quality T Level delivery at our centre. I came away really inspired by the things I had seen, and how those experiences could be woven into the delivery of certain aspects of the T Level content.”

Her sentiments are echoed by Amber Wagstaffe, the Industry Placement Co-ordinator for Land Based Industries at Abingdon and Witney College. As part of the preparations for delivering the Health and Science T Level from September 2021, Amber completed an Industry Insight placement at Crocodiles of the World, the UK’s only crocodile zoo:

“My discussions with keepers gave me an insight into the skills and knowledge required of our students in the zoo sector – this information has been passed onto colleagues so that we can embed it into our curriculum and ensure our learners are best prepared for securing placements and work in the industry. I have a better understanding of the zoo environment so I can better inform learners who wish to enter this industry.”

The Value of Dual Professionalism

The value that participants have gleaned should come as no surprise. The foundation of these opportunities – the established Teach Too principles of genuine two-way street working, dual professionalism and a clear line of sight to work – has helped to ensure that they have provided the kind of opportunities that colleagues value.

But it isn’t just those that will teach T Levels who have recognised the value of these activities; the many employers who have given their time to lead some of this activity are equally convinced of its value.

That’s because they too recognise the value of partnership working and the opportunity to invest in the teachers and trainers who will ensure that the new T Level courses produce highly-employable young people who are ready to help them drive their chosen industries forward.

Paul Robinett, CEO of The Robotic Workforce, which partnered with Richmond-upon-Thames College to deliver workshops on digital skills, is unequivocal:

“I have looked at the T Level content for the Digital sector and it’s clear to see how these qualifications relate to the skills required of the workforce of the next generation. We need to make sure students are aware of emerging technology and the potential roles that they will be able to fulfil in the future.

"In terms of skills, the UK is a bit behind, so we have to source most of our talent from overseas. We hope T Levels will help to close that skills gap.”

The Value of Cooperation Between Industry and the FE Sector

The breadth of the consensus around the value of cooperation between industry and the FE sector was clearly evident at the ETF-organised Preparing for T Level Delivery conference in Exeter in December.

Attendees on that day were from a spectrum of stakeholders, including employers and industry figures who will be instrumental in delivering student industry placements and the teachers, industry placement coordinators and other provider staff who will have overall responsibility for the T Level courses.

Their presentations were all different but addressed strikingly similar themes. We heard provider institutions describe the work they are doing to ensure the success of the placements their students will undertake, and we heard figures from industry – including the Royal Academy of Engineering and Galliford Try – pledging their support for the placements and their commitment to developing these opportunities collaboratively.

It was clear that industry understands the role T Levels will play in creating its workforce of the future and the importance of doing all it can to help provide the young people who will take T Levels with the most-valuable experiences of work they possibly can.

We received a wealth of positive feedback about the conference pointing to the value of the opportunity for providers to discuss progress with one another, collaborate and share strategies and experiences, the opportunity to take part in question and answer sessions with those in advanced preparation to deliver T Levels in 2020, and the large quantity of information to be disseminated to colleagues.

The Value of Input from Employers

Also highlighted by the providers who attended was the value they placed on the input from the employers who were there.

That bore out what I heard on the day – talking to attendees it was clear that all parties are taking a collaborative approach, sensing a new opportunity to strengthen the connection between the world of work and study for a new cohort of students.

The impression gained at the event is reinforced by dialogue we’re having with provider organisations through our Professional Development Advisers, the experts who are helping confirmed providers make best use of our professional development offer.

Across the different types of organisations that will deliver T Levels – from large college groups to small school sixth forms – they are reporting that the advent of the new courses is seen as an opportunity for new relationships with employers; something that will shift cultures.

And there’s already evidence of those new relationships bedding in, with the TLPD Industry Insight placements playing an important role. Looking at the teachers who have participated in these placements, it is clear that, amongst the many benefits they derive from them, one is the establishment of links with employers that they hope will be the springboard for many of their students.

That feels like the start of a cyclical, sustainable relationship, that will keep teachers industry-updated and introduce students to their chosen industry for years to come, and ensure that T Levels really do become a vital source of work-ready, capable and confident young people.

Cerian Ayres, National Head of Technical Education, Education and Training Foundation

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