A radical new way of bridging the gap between employment and education is being spearheaded by Middlesbrough College, but its success is dependent on the Tees region’s business community providing work placements for students.
Raising awareness of T levels, Middlesbrough College principal and CEO Zoe Lewis was full of praise for the scheme when taking part in the latest PD Ports-sponsored Tees Business Leaders online Q&A.
Having piloted T levels for three years, the college will deliver them from September, as the first education body approved to do so.
“We will be offering T levels in construction, digital, heath and childcare, with a pilot starting in engineering and more sectors to be rolled out over the coming years,” explained Zoe.
She continued: “T levels are the technical equivalent to A levels and the government’s attempt to get parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications. They help bridge the gap between education and employment.
“The biggest distinguishing factor, however, is that to achieve a T level you need a meaningful and long industrial placement – a minimum of 45 days. Students will go to college three or four days a week and into the workplace one day a week.”
From a young person’s point of view, T levels supplement learning with valuable experience gained in the workplace, while for employers it’s a something of a ‘try before you buy’.
Said Zoe: “You get to know the young person and see if they’re the right fit for your organisation. We really need to raise awareness of the good T levels can do and get more businesses onboard.”
The companies who joined in the initial trials of T levels – including Middlesbrough-based Coldtech Refrigeration & Air Conditioning and Stockton’s HC Controls – have been thrilled with the outcome.
“We knew nothing about T levels, but having a longstanding relationship with the college, we were willing to give the scheme a try,” explained Kate Peel, director of Coldtech, who took 16-year-old Jacob under their wing as part of his T level course.
“Middlesbrough College were amazing in arranging everything and I think we must have got the cream of the crop because Jacob was super. He fitted in really well and we were proud to call him part of the team.”
Kate sees T Levels as a win-win for both employer and student.
“We got an extra pair of hands and Jacob got experience of being in the workplace. We would have liked to have taken him on full-time, but business dropped off due to the pandemic so sadly we weren’t in that position.
“However, he came away from it with a great reference and experience which will give him a head start when it comes to looking for a job.”
Third guest Helen Bullivant, financial director of HC Controls, added: “We gave T Level placements to two local teenagers – Jack and Tom – and it was a great decision.
“I’d advise companies to become involved. You have nothing to lose. There’s support from the college and from (the college’s training arm) Northern Skills Group and there’s money out there from the government and the Tees Valley Combined Authority if you take on an apprentice.”
Helen is glowing in her praise for her trainees.
“Tom came to us and he was great quality,” she said. “He slotted into the team really well and it was great to see him learn skills and add value to the company.
“After Tom’s placement finished, we decided to sponsor him to do an apprenticeship and we took Jack on.
“Jack came to us two days a week. After doing his hours, he wanted to carry on free of charge because he was so enthusiastic to learn. We couldn’t have him work for nothing, so we took him on part-time. When the opportunity arises, we will offer him an apprenticeship as well.
“T levels have opened the door to these young lads who may not have had the chance otherwise, and both have been a great benefit to our business.”
Zoe hopes that by encouraging more businesses to offer space to students, T levels can flourish in our region, building a skillset and helping young people and the economy.
“I’m really hopeful that employers will see the advantages of being involved,“ she said. “The scheme is a great chance to see our youngsters shine. It’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned, and a really exciting time.”
• Organisations interested in taking a T level student on placement should contact Katharine.Hawking@northernskills.co.uk