T-level industry placements ‘likely’ to reduce apprenticeship offers, new DfE commissioned research finds

Substantial T-level industry placements are expected to reduce the number of apprenticeships that employers offer, new Department for Education research has found.

A major report, which included interviews with 120 employers, has this morning laid bare the major issues faced to make the key component of the new technical qualifications work.

Employers reported that while they were mostly supportive of 45 to 60 day placements, they’d need to be paid to offer them, while some explicitly said they will not offer them in industries such as construction and engineering because they “could not see the benefit of this type qualification”.

But probably most troubling was the finding that there could be “trade-offs” with T-level placements and apprenticeships.

“This research shows that particularly in routes where apprenticeships and other vocational training programmes are already established, we are likely to see trade-offs between employers’ willingness to offer T-level industry placements and their ability to continue with existing vocational placements, traineeships and apprenticeships,” the report said.

It comes at worrying time for apprenticeship take-up, as latest government figures show starts for May are down 40 per cent compared with the same period in 2016.

Today’s T-levels research report noted that “overall, employers welcomed the idea of industry placements” and the proposed length is viewed as being “sufficient to enable the young person to undertake work of value to both employers and learners”.

However, it found that employers not currently engaged in offering work-based placements “struggled to foresee how they might go about finding the resource for these tasks”.

“They are concerned about their capacity and are reluctant to divert resources away from productive work to training and supervising a young learner,” it said.

The report added that successfully generating industry placements is likely to “require a package of support that demonstrate the company benefits of an industry placement and/or sufficiently minimise the costs to the extent that altruistic motivations are able to kick in”.

It recommends that government quickly informs employers about “what type and level of support (including potential financial support) will be available”.

Employers are also “not currently clear” on how T-levels “fit with the range of other qualification options available”.

“To be able to understand whether and how the qualification (and providing a placement) might benefit their organisation, they need to understand how it fits with and compares to options such as A-levels, apprenticeships, NVQs and university degrees,” researchers said.

“Where the industry is one in which vocational qualifications are already well-established, the value of a T-level, compared to an apprenticeship or a qualification with a more significant work placement component, is questioned.

“This is based on a perception that a primarily classroom-based qualification is a poor substitute for work-based learning.”

The first three T-level pathways set to start teaching in 2020 will be in digital (production, design and development), childcare and education, and construction (design, surveying and planning).

However, the DfE research found that for the education and childcare pathway, the “nature of work means it is impractical for young people to take part” in placements.

This includes “being in contact with young and/or vulnerable people (DBS checks may be required)” and “dealing with sensitive or confidential information”.

A Department for Education spokesperson confirmed that the completion of an industry placement will be a “requirement” for full certification of T-levels.

“Industry placements will be a key part of the new T-level programmes,” she said.

“Many businesses have said that the inclusion of a meaningful and substantial industry placement would make sure learners are better prepared and motivated for work.

“That is why we are investing nearly £60 million in 2018/19 with further funding to come in 2019/20 to support education providers to work with employers to deliver placements.

“We will continue to work closely with employers to explore ways to make sure they are able to offer placements from 2020.”