75% of UK businesses expect to increase the number of high-skilled roles over the coming years, but 61% fear that there will be a lack of sufficiently skilled people to fill them, according to the UKCES Employer Skills Survey.

There is no doubt that the post-16 education landscape is changing to try and fill the technical skill gap. In March this year, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged £500million in the budget to introduce T-Levels in England.

In this article we attempt to answer some of the most pressing questions awarding bodies and vocational institutes across the country are seeking to have answered.

1)    What are T-Levels?

‘T-Levels’ is the name that has been given by the media to government’s planned overhaul of technical education in England. Between now and 2022, 15 new pathways will be developed in sectors where technical training is required to progress in employment. These courses have also been referred to as Tech Levels.

2)    With all the educational reforms happening at the moment, is there any point in planning for T-levels yet?

There have been many changes and initiatives in the education sector in recent years, so it isn’t surprising that many Further Education (FE) and training providers may be holding back from preparing for T-Levels. The Chancellor was clear in his 2017 budget announcement about the Government’s plans however, stating:

“we need to do more to support our young adults into quality jobs and help them gain world-class skills.

And 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…

… there is still a lingering doubt about the parity of esteem attaching to technical education pursued through the Further Education route. Today we end that doubt for good, with the introduction of T-Levels.

One [system of qualifications] that is designed and recognised by employers with clear routes into work, more time in the classroom, and good quality work placements.”

The inclusion of T-Levels within the Queen’s speech further emphasised this commitment.

As more details emerge about the T-levels, it’s important to be prepared if you want to position your organisation as a thought-leader within the industry, and/or one that is ready to offer vocational routes to qualify the future workforce with relevant skills. This can help your organisation remain competitive in a changing market.

3)    Is there actually a demand for T-Level assessment?

Since the announcement of the apprenticeship levy, there has been an increase in demand for apprentices from employers. A report launched by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, highlights that almost half (44%) of employers in England have accelerated their degree apprenticeship strategy as a result of the Levy. This is not necessarily at the expense of more traditional graduate programmes, with just 22% of employers predicting that they would be cutting graduate numbers as a result of the levy.

Of the levy-paying employers surveyed, 56% are offering or planning to offer one of the 18 approved degree apprenticeships available at the time of the survey. Large employers with more than 5,000 employees are more likely to do so than smaller ones, as are employers in construction, financial services and the legal sector.

The ‘Chartered Manager’ Degree Apprenticeship is predicted to grow by more than 400% between 2016–2019, to more than 1,000 apprenticeships. In the same period, employers are planning for growth of over 280% to 635 ‘Digital & Technology Solutions Professional’ Degree Apprenticeships.

Other research conducted with industry and assessment experts, through the Future Apprenticeships programme, estimated that between 23,000 and 42,000 assessors will ultimately be required to deliver approximately between 570,000 and 630,000 end-point assessments each year to meet the demand.

4)    How will T-Levels align with other apprenticeship initiatives?

T-Levels should work side-by-side with apprenticeships. Eleven of the fifteen T-Level routes will be available as two-year college courses or as an apprenticeship. The remaining four routes, listed below, are likely to be available via apprenticeships only.

  • Protective services
  • Sales, marketing and procurement
  • Social care
  • Transport and logistics

5)    Will there be employer involvement in curriculum delivery?

FE colleges have, historically, been prime providers of technical training, and it is too early to predict how the introduction in April of the Apprenticeship Levy will impact their share of the market. However, many FE providers are already working more closely with employers, who want to invest in the skills that will make their workforce more competitive and more effective.

For example, Career Colleges work closely with businesses to ensure the skills being taught are relevant to the world of work within their technical colleges across England. Their latest school: the Pan-London Construction Career College, was an employer-led project by leaders in the construction field, Grant Findlay and Sir Robert McAlpine, with Career Colleges as the facilitators.

6)    How can awarding bodies and training providers prepare for T-Levels?

There has always been a push by government for industry to recruit and help train 16-18 year olds in more vocational areas. The Apprenticeship levy has added another incentive for businesses to do this. There is a chance that these incentives may evaporate and employers revert their apprenticeship schemes to their own trainee schemes, or look for candidates with existing experience for the same role.

To help avoid this happening it’s important to build relationships with colleges and industry partners so that you understand what they are looking for from apprenticeships and T-Levels. Any new qualification specifications can then be designed with these requirements in mind, making them relevant to future skills needs and reflective of the workplace. Reviewing your existing vocational qualifications as well as your organisation’s capacity to expand on these can aide in preparing for when T-Levels are formally introduced.

7)    Will you need new assessment methods and practices to suit T-Levels?

The concept of end of course grading brought in with the new T-Levels represents a change in practice for technical apprenticeships. On top of that, as employers get more involved, assessment will need to reflect the modern day workplace and ensure that the skills needed for the fourth industrial revolution are taught. It has been agreed by government that employer-led panels will develop new “standards” to be used to build the technical routes, underpin both the T-Levels and apprenticeships. Occupational maps will be developed that will show relationships between occupations in each route. Technical qualifications (T-Levels) will then be developed based on these standards. Therefore it is imperative that curriculum and assessment delivery and quality reflects the needs and wants of employers, whilst moving from continuous or modular assessment to a single end-point assessment.

8)    Can technology help you remain competitive?

The changes planned with the new T-Levels is opening up the market to more qualification suppliers. Therefore it is imperative to ensure you are competitive and trusted, whilst remaining relevant to the workplace.

You can do this is by matching the way you assess students with how they will work within their industry. This can be done either via computer-based testing (reflecting how the modern office worker now performs tasks onscreen) or by setting projects for students to complete that will benefit the company they are apprenticing for.

No matter how you choose to assess a student, it is important that the marking quality provided is of a consistently high standard. Find out the most common marking errors and biases and how e-marking can help reduce them by watching our recorded webinar: How e-marking can improve the quality assurance of exam marking.