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The UK has a strong traditional education system that leads young people through GCSEs and A-levels to a degree at some of the world’s leading universities. Every year, thousands of talented and highly educated young people graduate and enter the workplace.
Nevertheless, the tech sector – like other industries – struggles to meet its entry-level talent needs and build a sustainable pipeline for the future. Skills shortages and gaps are a perennial issue. Meeting diversity ambitions is another challenge, given that traditional routes tend to be dominated by students from certain demographic groups and backgrounds.
That is why in recent years alternative pathways, including apprenticeships and placement schemes, have attracted increasing attention and investment. Recognition has grown that traditional pathways are not suited to everyone and may result in some young people being denied the opportunity to develop to their full potential. Building a wider pipeline of talent at entry level helps address skills shortages and increases diversity, enabling businesses to better reflect the communities in which they operate.
The technical education alternative
There is another alternative that is gaining traction too – T Levels, and the recently announced Advanced British Standard (ABS), which over the next decade T Levels and A-levels will merge into.
It’s early days since the Prime Minister’s announcement of the ABS, but what we do know is that T Levels will be around for some time, and most of their employer-led “DNA” will be inherited into the new ABS qualification.
So, let’s look in more detail at T Levels, because they have the potential to enable young people to develop career-focused skills and help businesses meet skills needs. T Levels are an alternative to A-levels, lasting the same duration (two years). One T Level is broadly equivalent to three A-levels, with content that is more practically focused and broadly meets the needs of industry and employers. They are roughly 80% classroom based and 20% workplace based, including an industry placement of around 45 days. Many employers retain T Level students on completion of their course – giving a direct entry route into the world of work.
First launched in September 2020, there are 16 different T Levels now available across subjects as diverse as agriculture, construction, digital, engineering, finance, health and science. The list is expanding, with the government aiming to have 24 T Levels available by 2024.
The content of existing T Levels is expanding too. The Digital Support Services T Level gives students a grounding in all aspects of digital, from how digital technologies impact the business and market environment to understanding virtual and cloud environments and using data in software design.
The qualification also covers the key area of cyber security, privacy and confidentiality – and has been expanded so that, from this September, cyber security has been added to the range of occupational specialisms students can opt for.
With cyber attackers becoming ever more proactive and determined, industry is in acute need of a steady in-flow talent to their cyber security teams. Skills shortages in cyber are amongst the worst of any discipline and indeed the government recently warned of an 11,200 shortfall compared to the demands of the cyber workforce. In our own annual Digital Leadership Report, cyber routinely features as one of the highest areas of skills shortage.
Technical qualifications in action
The role that T Levels play today and in the future is vitally important as they create a pathway into the technology sector for those people that feel a more academic route is not for them.
I was at an event recently which included a number of people who had completed their T Level studies. One such T Level graduate spoke proudly of the fact that she had never been any good at taking exams but is a great problem solver, so the more practical approach of T Levels was perfect for her. She has now landed a dream job as a software developer at Lloyds Bank.
These sorts of examples shine a light on why T Levels are so important in providing an alternative pathway for those very gifted and talented young people who have strengths which may go unnoticed in a more traditional educational setting.
Employers: lean in
My message to employers is – be curious about T Levels, lean in. They could be a fantastic source of fresh new talent for your business. Hundreds of employers have already hosted T Level students on industry placements, and that number is set to grow.
Take a look at the T Levels on offer and think about which ones are applicable to your line of business – getting involved could help you open up a new talent stream. Even if you don’t take on a student afterwards, giving them a placement means you will be playing your part in helping the country equip our new generation with work-ready, practically focused skills and attributes that will keep the wheels of the economy turning.
You can also find more about the Advanced British Standard, and how T Levels will fold into it over the next decade. Either way, promoting technical education will be an important factor in building our UK tech skills pipeline, and we all have a role to play.