17th March Journal Column

 By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Last week, Chancellor Philip Hammond gave his Spring Budget speech and announced the launch of new T-Level qualifications. The new system is designed to put technical construction qualifications on a par with A-Levels, and I couldn’t be happier!

For a long time, technical education for school leavers has been neglected, with large differences in skill levels between regions. We’ve been desperate for the government to look at methods of technical training, especially for young people, and now they’ve finally agreed that compared to other countries, we are trailing behind. In the international league table for technical education we rank 16th out of 20, almost approaching bottom which is extremely worrying, so something needed to be done.

The £500m-a-year investment in T-Levels will come into effect in 2019 and will benefit 16-19-year-olds across 15 different sectors including construction, engineering and manufacturing. The 15 new courses will replace more than 13,000 different technical qualifications that we currently have, so it’s no surprise that not everybody knows what they all mean. Narrowing down qualifications means that employers will easily know what a potential employee can and can’t do and where their strengths lie – something that will make employing a skilled worker who is right for the job much easier.

Students will be offered at least a three-month work placement in their second year, which is sadly where doubt of the success of T-Levels creeps in. Statistics from the Construction Industry Training Board show that the number of young people in construction-related further education is much more than the number of apprenticeship places being offered, so will employers even be able to offer placements? The pressure is on for the government to find hundreds of thousands of work placements that it’s going to need for T-Level students, for this whole process to be a success.

For too long the industry has been wrongly viewed as an easy way out for those without qualifications or an alternative to the academic route, so I’m hoping the introduction of T-Levels changes this perception. There are a number of routes into the industry for those of all skills levels and people who work in the industry are some of the smartest people.

With the announcement of T-Levels and the recent announcement of the overhaul of technical education, setting up institutes of technology teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects), it’s obvious the government are finally taking this seriously. There has never been a better time for getting children interested in STEM subjects and construction, within the next couple of years the opportunities available to them will be better than ever before.