While T-levels have suffered criticism and setbacks, the UK government’s plan to revolutionise vocational education can benefit employers and students alike. I should know, writes Alfie Earlam, I’m one of the few lucky students trialling them and I couldn’t be happier

T-levels will be introduced in autumn 2020, replacing a wide range of qualifications. In the meantime, I am a student trying to open as many doors as possible in terms of my future career and further education, and T-levels are proving to be the perfect way to do this.

Like many of my peers, I’m not sure what I will do after my studies, or even what kind of studies I will continue to do. People who have that level of certainty are rare. But whether you want to go to university or straight into a job once you have finished post-16 options, T-levels prepare you for both.

The qualification works in a similar way to the current apprenticeship scheme. However, whereas apprenticeships require students to learn at a local college one day a week, with the rest of the week spent at work, T-levels include three days at college, with two days in a placement relevant to the course you are studying. Ultimately, 315 hours of work experience are required to gain the qualification. 

As Julie Girling, T-level coordinator from New College Stamford, explains: “For students who are looking for a job at the end of the placement, T-levels improve their potential for employment. They provide real experience in the industry, which they can use on their CV.”

T-levels stand to make the job market fairer

But you don’t have to be someone with a clear vision of your future career; the new scheme is a way of trialling what you think you would like to do in the future. For example, a student may want to work as a veterinary nurse, and T-levels provide the opportunity to do this part-time as an element of their qualification – as long as their course relates to animal care. If, during their studies, they realise they don’t like being a veterinary nurse, they can choose to change their course, or to change their placement. 

So, while more colleges should definitely prepare for this scheme, it’s also imperative to get the word out to businesses. Their awareness of, and participation in, the scheme is what will provide willing students the opportunities they need.

Many industries, such as construction, agriculture, manufacturing and engineering, are currently lacking skilled young workers, and apprenticeships are not filling the gap. This might be due to employers favouring their existing employees, but the level of commitment employers require from young people is also too great for many of my peers.

Anna Morrish, owner of Quibble Content, where I’m doing my placement, says that “the T-level programme has brought fresh perspectives, insights and ideas to the business as well as providing additional support on the two days our intern is with us”. She believes that supporting the younger generation with their studies is something that should be more common for the business community, especially in those dependent on skilled workers. 

If employers are proactive and get involved, T-levels could create a whole new generation of workers who are more knowledgeable and experienced than ever before.

T-levels present another advantage for students who may have little or no work experience. It provides them with an understanding of how businesses work, how it feels to have a job and responsibilities. Quibble treats me as an employee, and that gives me real-life experience and the chance to feel part of the team and to prove myself in the adult world.

This is all to the benefit of industries while also creating the conditions for tackling youth unemployment. T-levels stand to make the job market fairer, allowing students who lack the connections that many entry-level jobs require – due to geography, demographics and culture – to shape a career based on their own merits.