T Levels have potential to deliver much needed homegrown technical talent if government addresses challenges faced by employers

Oct 10, 2022

With a chronic shortage of skilled engineers and technicians to power Britain’s industry, it is critical that more employers get on board with T Levels and offer industry placements, to plug the gap and give UK business the power it needs to compete on the international stage. 

To coincide with National T Levels Week, Make UK and EngineeringUK have published new research highlighting the benefits of T Levels for businesses who are desperate for more young skilled people. However, the report ‘Unlocking talent: Ensuring T Levels deliver the workforce of the future’ also draws attention to the challenges that T Levels in the engineering and manufacturing sector face, particularly the industry placement component of the qualification.  

The report estimates that the engineering and manufacturing T Level route will require as many as 43,500 placements to be provided by employers in the sector by 2024/25. Yet currently only 1 in 10 (9%) of engineering and manufacturing employers surveyed for the report hosts a T Level placement and just 12% plan to in the coming year.

Key challenges faced by employers

Several factors are holding back engineering and manufacturing employers from engaging with T Levels and from offering industry placements, including a lack of employer understanding of T Levels and of information and support on offer. The survey found that 52% of respondents had never heard of the financial support available for offering placements. Almost 6 in 10 (57%) said that they had not heard of the tailored advice and hands on direct support available, with 52% saying the same about webinars, guides and case studies, and 63% about shared placements.

Awareness, cost and capacity remain a major barrier, with 44% of engineering and manufacturing businesses saying a lack of staff capacity is the main barrier to delivering T Level industry placements. Time commitment (41%) was the second most significant barrier for employers, while a fifth have concerns about legal constraints, extending to adequate protection of young people in safety-critical industries.

3 in 10 employers (29%) said that the fact they already offered apprenticeships was a barrier to them being able to offer T Level industry placements, increasing to 34% for the largest businesses.

That said, employers remain of the view that T Levels have the potential to provide a solution to solving their vocational pipeline issues with 55% open to taking on an industry placement in the future.

To secure more industry placements government action is needed to remove the barriers facing employers offering them. More than half (57%) of manufacturers said that reinstating the £1,000 financial incentive would make the most notable difference to their ability to offer placements and 2 in 5 said integrating T Levels with apprenticeships would help them to offer placements.

Make UK and EngineeringUK are calling on Government to:

  • restore the £1,000 incentive for SMEs to make it easier for employers to offer a T Level placement
  • work with sector bodies and organisations to run an awareness raising campaign to get more employers on board
  • develop clear progression maps that demonstrate how T Levels work within the current education landscape
  • establish a T Level industry placement taskforce to support the delivery of placements and be ambassadors for the wider T Level programme

The UK needs a skilled engineering workforce to meet net zero targets

Bhavina Bharkhada, Head of Policy & Campaigns at Make UK, said: “More than ever the manufacturing industry is crying out for skilled technicians, data scientists and technical operators. The pipeline from the EU has been severely curtailed since the UK left the European Union, so we need to turbo charge the best quality training in these skills from homegrown talent.

“For too long apprenticeships and vocational careers in our great industries have been viewed as second best, and the creation of T Levels as a qualification of choice will go some way in delivering the very best in life opportunities, which is critical to changing perceptions and delivering the skills Britain so badly needs.”

Although T Levels have been under development for some time, 28% of employers still have not heard of the new qualification, and more than half (52%) say they would benefit from more tailored information and guidance, including at a local level. Government should go further in tailoring T Level resources to employers in the sector, establish a T Level industry placement taskforce and promote T Levels across government to improve awareness and understanding.

Beatrice Barleon, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at Engineering UK, commented: “The UK urgently needs more engineers and technicians to drive innovation and support economic growth as well as our ambitions around net zero. But as it stands, we have far too few young people coming up through the education system wanting and able to move into a career in engineering and manufacturing.

“T Levels are designed to provide young people with a clear pathway into engineering and manufacturing careers, but their success hinges on young people being able to access industry placements as part of their qualification. As it stands, it will be a real challenge to secure the 43,500 placements needed.

“We are therefore urging government to focus on supporting businesses and education providers through offering financial incentives as well as creating the right conditions and frameworks. Doing so will enable them to collaborate efficiently and open up their businesses for young people to learn new skills and develop into the workforce of the future that we so desperately need.”

Read the full report on T Levels.

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