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Recap: T Levels: What, why, where and how?

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December 5, 2022 | Social Mobility Commission


T Levels are a new alternative to A levels and other further education courses in England. Equivalent to 3 A levels, a T Level focuses on vocational skills and can help students into employment, higher education or apprenticeships. Each T Level includes an in-depth industry placement that lasts at least 45 days, so students spend 80% of their course in the classroom and 20% in the workplace. But how can you as an employer make the most of T level placements and the benefits they can bring? 

In our latest masterclass we were joined by a panel of experts, chaired by Alun Francis, Deputy Chair of the Social Mobility Commission and Principal of Oldham College. Our panellists were Anne Ashworth from Pearson plc, an employer who has already placed T Level students into their business, Berni Turner from Dudley College of Technology, a provider of T Levels which has placed multiple students into workplace settings, and Catherine Sezen from the Association of Colleges. This was a great combination, providing valuable insight into how businesses can benefit from bringing a young person into the workplace through this route, and how it can help them build a pipeline of talent. 

If you missed it last week, you can watch the recording below, and read on for our key takeaways.

1. There’s loads of support for employers

If you’re not sure where to start when thinking about taking on a T level student, the best thing to do is to get in touch with your local college. Colleges are really well equipped to help you and they will be able to offer a huge amount of support throughout the process.

Often colleges will have a dedicated member of staff or team to assist employers in placing T level students, who are there to provide information, guidance, help, support and reassurance along the way. At Oldham College, says Alun, there is a member of staff responsible for employee engagement, and Berni from Dudley College told us that they also have an employer-facing T level industry placement team, so don’t worry about navigating the process alone.

Before you commit to getting involved with T Levels, many colleges hold employer engagement events, including breakfast and weekend options, that allow you to go along, meet college staff, have a chat and see if offering a placement might be right for you.

Cath from the Association of Colleges says, “Aany T level provider will be delighted to talk to you! Even if T levels aren’t quite right for you just now there may be other opportunities that are, so it’s well worth going and finding out more.”

Colleges also provide lots of support with the matching process. Berni explains that, at Dudley College, any employer offering a placement comes in to do an intro session with students talking about the role, responsibilities and expectations to give students an insight of what they are entering into by applying. Students then put together an application and go through a selection process just as they would for any job in the future. Berni points out that this benefits both the students and the company, ensuring that they have a good experience with placement students and the students are best matched to projects.

Anne from Pearson plc agrees. She found that offering students a short interview was particularly beneficial, and Pearson actually ended up taking on additional placement students as a result. 

 

2. It’s not just work experience  

Anne believes that the key thing to remember when taking on T level placement students is to treat the industry placement like a proper job – “it’s not work experience, it’s a meaningful placement.” She says that planning ahead is really important, and it’s key to put a proper job description together, and communicate to managers how engagement with T levels can assist with workforce planning. 

Although not required, Pearson also asks managers to undertake safeguarding training before any placement students arrive, which Anne believes makes them think carefully about the students coming into the company, and how they can be supported. 

Cath advises that employers think carefully about what they are looking for before offering a placement, considering what skills gaps they have and how a T level student could potentially fill them. Along with Anne, she says it’s essential to remember that these students aren’t “observing and shadowing – think about a meaningful project”.

T level placements are not just about what you can offer a student, but also how a student can help you. Young people have lots to offer in the workplace and hosting a T level student could be a great way of getting a new perspective on a project or work area. Anne gives the example of one T level student at Pearson being responsible for redesigning a webpage – not only was it something that really needed doing but it also “showed managers that young people are really capable and should be part of workforce planning.” 

The length of the placement, and the fact that students are undertaking substantive work projects, can also have other benefits for you as an employer.  As Anne points out, T level placements lasting a minimum of 45 days means that they are a great way of interviewing a young person over time, and getting a real insight into how they work within your company. 

One audience question was around the logistics of getting placement students set up on systems, if they are not employed in the same way that an apprentice would be. Anne says “Once you know you are taking on a T level student you need to start to speak to your technology people and those that do your recruitment and onboarding.  We identified the T level students as ‘contingent workers’ which enabled us to have them as Pearson workers but with no NI or staff record attached to them. The manager needs to identify the level of access they should have on the system and which platforms they can use. We also identified which of the mandatory training modules they should undertake and did this in plenty of time.”

Her top tip? “Don’t leave it too close to the student starting as it can take time to have meetings with the relevant people and in getting all of the approvals in place.”

 

3. Every business can get involved

Hosting T level placements can have great benefits for any business, enabling you to ‘grow your own’ talent by working with learners early on, investing into them and teaching them how to succeed in your industry. Many T level students have been offered jobs or apprenticeships at the end of their placement, and the time that they have already spent immersed in the company means that you get fantastic, effective practitioners moving into these roles. 

Both Alun and Berni stressed the importance of different businesses getting involved. Alun pointed out that this is particularly important to address geographical imbalance in the economy – “there are fewer corporate opportunities in somewhere like Oldham, so it’s really important for the public sector to step in.” 

Berni also reminded us that every business can get involved with T levels. Regardless of the main function of your organisation, you may have places for students – every business has digital needs, every business has finance needs. Even if you don’t see an immediate connection between your core work and the available T Level subjects, think laterally about the contribution T Level students can make, and what opportunities they can bring.

 

4. T Levels can help you close the skills gap 

Engaging with T Levels is an ideal way to close skills gaps in your organisation, and make workforce planning easier. 

Cath thinks that one of the greatest opportunities that T Levels offer employers is the chance to meet young people and work with them over a long period of time, meaning that you really get to know them and their strengths. Working with these students early on allows you to think 2-3 years in the future and work with your local provider to nurture that pipeline of future talent, as well as meeting immediate skills needs through placements! 

Hosting placements for T Level students is also a great way of helping to upskill your existing members of staff. Anne has found that working with T Level students has raised the interpersonal skills of up and coming managers at Pearson, better equipping them for their future roles within the company, alongside the benefits to the students themselves. 

Berni recommends working with students from an early point in their qualification to make sure they’re getting the right skills and placements – something that your local T Level provider will be there to support you with. 

“T Levels are an investment”, she reminds us. “The time and effort companies put in is rewarded by students doing amazing things for them. You reap what you sow.” 

She leaves us with one final thought on the benefits T Levels can offer businesses – “The amount of companies who have increased their placements from 1 to 5 or more over the last few years speaks for itself!”

 

All our panellists agreed that T Levels were a great tool for increasing social mobility. Alun explains “[T Levels] give students a chance to experience things they may not have otherwise – whether that’s a technical skill or experience of the workplace” and also highlights that T Level placements allow employers to see a wider range of talent, opening doors to new career opportunities for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 

Cath agrees, and has seen that T Level qualifications really increase the confidence of students – she says that a lot of alumni put that down to the placement and the opportunities that it gives them. “A lot of young people at college have a part time job,” she says, “but the opportunity to go and do a placement with a large company is not an opportunity that most of those young people would ever have otherwise.” 

 

If you’d like to find out more about T Levels, and how you can host an industry placement at your organisation, visit the T Levels website and contact your local college or T Levels provider.

You might also like to read our recent blog, written for the first ever National T Levels Week in October, to hear more about how organisations are using T Levels to reach even more talented young people.

 

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