It’s now nearly a year since the Government set out its vision for technical education, in the Post-16 Skills Plan, and more than two months since the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed in his budget that T-Levels are set to become a reality. However, from many of the conversations we have been having with people in the Further Education and Independent Training Provider sectors, it seems like there is a definite reluctance to deal with this issue now, the most common reaction being something like, “Yes, we know they are coming, but they’re not really on our radar at the moment.”
In a sense, this is understandable. There have been so many changes and initiatives in recent years, that if there is a tendency to roll the eyes in the head at yet another one, it wouldn’t be entirely unsurprising. Yet although this reluctance to get cracking on T-Level preparation might be understandable, it is not sustainable. In his budget, Philip Hammond removed any lingering doubts as to whether the Government was intending to continue with the plans with this comment:
“While we have an academic route in this country that is undeniably one of the best in the world, the truth is that we languish near the bottom of the international league tables for technical education. Today we end that doubt for good, with the introduction of T-Levels.”
Although we have a general election coming up, and the result of that might change things, providers should be working on the assumption that T-Levels are coming, and if all goes according to plan they will be introduced in 2019. In planning terms, that’s not a massive amount of time, and so it really is essential that providers start their preparations now, in order to ensure the implementation of a system that really works.
But how can colleges and ITPs begin to prepare? The place to begin must be to look at what T-Levels are intended to do. At the heart of the system is the idea that T-Levels will provide employers with people trained in the technical skills that they need to improve productivity and to grow. The most important part of the Post-16 Skills Plan is this description of the new qualifications as being:
“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.”
That is the basic T-Level proposition – a system that teaches the skills that best serve the needs of industry and employers, and the mechanism by which this will be delivered is the streamlining of the current qualifications 13,000+ technical qualifications down to just 15 basic routes.
This being the case, what then is the most fundamental thing a provider must do to prepare for the introduction of T-Levels? The answer is to identify the employer demand for each T-Level route in terms of the occupations they relate to in the region, and to plan a curriculum which takes this into account.
For example, think of a region that has a heavy concentration of occupations connected to the health and science T-Level route, and these jobs are forecast to grow over the next few years. On the other hand, it has a relatively small number of occupations related to the digital T-Level, with demand not expected to grow in the near future. Where should a provider in this region place its emphasis when planning its T-Level curriculum? Furthermore, what would happen if the provider failed to identify demand, and put more emphasis on the digital route simply because “everyone wants to do digital”? The answer is that many employers in the region would continue to suffer from a deficit of the skills that they really need, and equally importantly those graduating are either going to find it very difficult to find employment, or they are going to end up in a job for which they did not train.
Fundamentally, a provider that fails to identify employer demand in its region for each T-Level route, is bound to create a T-Level curriculum that fails to fit the purpose for which have been created. The key to successful T-Level preparation is therefore to begin with asking the following questions:
- What occupations do each of the T-level routes relate to?
- What is the demand for those occupations in our region?
- How does our curriculum align with regional demand for these jobs?
Answering these questions is not only entirely feasible, (see here for one group of colleges that has taken this approach), but also essential for T-Levels to be really effective. As Benjamin Franklin so aptly put it, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. The flip side of this is that the provider that engages in good, early preparation, is the one that is best prepared for success.
We would love to hear how your organisation is preparing for T-Levels and if there are opportunities for us to partner with you to help make them successful. Do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts.