In the aftermath of the recent general election, there were many question marks over which pre-election policies would remain and which would be discarded. One of the uncertainties was around the plans to shake up the skills system, with the creation of new T-Levels. But in the Queen’s Speech, the Government confirmed that there had been no change in their policy on T-Levels, and that they intended to continue with the same proposals and an unchanged timeline
As a reminder, the new system aims to reduce the current number of over 13,000 qualifications available for 16-18-year-olds with just two basic options: the existing academic route or A-Levels, and a new technical route or T-Levels. Crucially, T-Levels will include “a common framework of 15 routes … which encompasses all employment-based and college-based technical education at levels 2 to 5.”
The key part of the Post-16 Skills Plan was this sentence, stating that the goal of T-Levels is 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.”
In other words, T-Levels are really an attempt to replace what has essentially been a supply-led system, where colleges have largely been able to shape their curriculum as they have seen fit, with a demand-led one, which is driven much more by the needs of employers and with improving economic growth the end goal.
It is therefore very much in the interests of LEPs that T-Levels do what they are supposed to do, but it does raise a couple of big questions for every LEP in the country: firstly, how can we understand which T-Level routes are really in demand in our area? Secondly, how can we work with our local colleges to ensure that T-Levels do meet the needs of our local employers and industry?
Since the fundamental point about T-Levels is that they are meant to be responsive to the changing needs of the economy, the first port of call must be to identify which occupations in the labour market the 15 T-Level routes actually relate to. This can be done by mapping the routes to associated occupations, so for instance if we look at the Digital route, we find that the occupations it relates to are 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 map the routes to labour market demand, enabling us to identify trends, current jobs and forecast data for each route. The graphs below show this exercise at the national level, with demand for each of the routes (green line) shown in comparison with demand for all jobs throughout the country (blue line):
But it is when we get down to the really granular geographical data that the exercise of mapping routes to the labour market passes out of the realm of simply being an interesting academic exercise to something much more exciting that really has the potential to enable LEPs and colleges to work together to make T-Levels a success. For instance, the following graph drills down to the Solent LEP region, and shows a comparison of annual openings for three T-level routes from 2016-2021:
Or we could 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:
This approach of mapping T-Levels to occupations, and then identifying the demand for these occupations at the regional level, means that it is possible to establish employer demand for each route for any geography in the country. It therefore provides at least part of the answer to my earlier question – how can we understand which T-Level routes are really in demand in our area? – and so provides a solution to the call for T-Levels to be “responsive to the changing needs of the economy.”
It also feeds into the second question I asked, which was “how can we work with our local colleges to ensure that T-Levels do meet the needs of our local employers and industry?” By understanding how T-Level routes relate to local employer and industry needs, LEPs are clearly better placed to work with their local colleges – and to challenge them – to make sure that their regional economy really is getting the skills that it needs.
Having reached out to a number of colleagues in LEPs across the country, I have heard the same message over and over again: that T-Levels are a fantastic opportunity to really reshape the skills agenda, and that LEPs have a crucial role in making sure that they are not just another gimmick, but that they really do start to tackle the chronic skills gap that has plagued the country for far too long. I completely agree, and I would challenge every LEP to ensure it is well positioned to work with both local colleges and local industry, connecting education to employment through a thorough knowledge of how T-Levels align to the local economy. By so doing, LEPs can offer the kind of regional leadership that is needed to produce a T-Levels system that really does “respond to the changing needs of the economy”.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues, contact Andy Durman at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out more by signing up to our T-Levels webinar on 18th July: