Young people’s lives being reshaped with new qualifications: Technical Levels and Apprenticeship begin to bed down

20 Apr

I        Technical Levels

The Technical Levels, or more commonly, the Tech Levels, are school-leaving qualifications offered by educational bodies in the United Kingdom to young people completing secondary or pre-university education. Tech-Levels are the vocational equivalent of the A-levels and will, with luck and a change of the nation’s mindset, have the same status as A Levels for university entrance.

The course spans two years of study and is split into parts. The first part, known as the Certificate Level, is a qualification in itself. The second part is known as the Diploma Level is more rigorous than the Certificate Level. Both, the Certificate and Diploma units make up the whole Technical Level qualification.

The 11 T levels, announced in 2017, is part of a package of reforms on technical education recommended by the independent panel on technical education, chaired by Lord Sainsbury, in 2016. The first three T Levels which will take off in 2020 are

  • Digital,
  • Construction and
  • Education and Childcare

The next three T levels which will be offered from 2021 are

  • Legal, Finance and Accounting,
  • Engineering and Manufacturing and
  • Health and Science

The following will begin the rounds in 2022:

  • Hair and Beauty,
  • Agriculture, Environment and Animal Care,
  • Business and Administration,
  • Catering and Hospitality and
  • Creative and Design

Consultation on the development and design of the new qualifications closed on 8 February 2018.   Finalised details are expected shortly.

A young person will spend 1,800 hours studying for a T Level.  The government will spend £500 million a year on T Levels to assist a minimum of 10% of Britain’s young people to qualify in them.

II       Apprenticeships

The apprenticeships scheme has had a stuttering start.  It has yet to take firm root for young people who have left school, don’t want to go to university for all sorts of reasons, not least to be lumbered with huge debts, and can’t find work.

(a)        Criticism from the Confederation of British Industry

The apprenticeship levy was imposed on every business with a turnover of £3 million and over on 5 April 2017.  It has attracted strong criticism from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).  Neil Carberry, the Managing Director of the CBI, which represents 190 companies, told The Sunday Times, “It doesn’t incentivise businesses and it doesn’t encourage the creation of the kind of training hubs that are characteristic of countries where [a levy] is working really well.” The CBI remarked that funds should be pooled and shared to allow small firms to work together to take on more apprenticeships.

Carberry added: “Government has been tin-eared about the realities of a business challenge to the levy.  It’s not about not wanting to support apprenticeships — we absolutely do. It’s about a system that was designed in Whitehall and is not working on the ground. The heat about the apprenticeship levy is . . . about it not driving a system that’s fit for purpose.”

The number of young people going into apprenticeship plunged by 25% from 1 September 2017 to 31 March 2018.  An Open University (OU) report revealed that £1.3 billion paid into the apprenticeship fund had not yet been claimed.   Carberry called for a review.   However, the Department for Education has a different take on how the scheme is developing.   It said that apprenticeships had “fundamentally changed for the better”.  It added that the number of people doing higher-level apprenticeships had increased.

A company with a below £3 million turnover can use the apprenticeship levy to subsidise training for young workers without having to contribute to funding the scheme.  But many small businesses are not capitalising on apprenticeships.   Christopher Greenough, Commercial Director of Salop – Design and Engineering, a small business, said that the initiative was a good idea, “but it hasn’t been backed up properly.  The government seems to think its job is done. It has washed its hands of it and left it to businesses to sort out.”  The system is seen by many businesses as inflexible and CBI has called for an urgent review.

(b)       Challenges and Problems

The aim is to raise £3 billion annually to train a new generation of talented young employees.  Provisional data released by the DfE in March 2018 showed that there were 194,000 apprenticeship starts in the first half of the academic year 2017/18, a fall of 25% on the same period a year ago.  The aim was for 3 million young people to begin their working careers as apprentices by 2020.   This target will be hard to reach.

There are several problems with making apprenticeships work as the scheme was formerly envisaged.  Large companies pay the levy but cannot access the specialised training they require.  They end up paying for the training.  Small organisations that thought they don’t pay the 0.5% of their staff’s aggregated salaries, have difficulty accessing funding while the training providers require them to agree payment plans – a layer of bureaucracy not required of larger companies.

Additionally, several companies have discovered that the quality of training provided by the 2,500 registered providers is of a low standard.  FSG Tool and Die trains apprentices from its base in Llantrisant, mid-Glamorgan.  It has been doing so since 1965.   Today, the external providers train apprentices in basic skills following which the company brings them in-house for more complex instructions.

Could it be that the scheme has teething problems?  At least that is what the DfE thinks.  It maintains that training standards had improved because of the levy.  Phillip Hammond, the Chancellor, allocated an extra £80 million to small companies to boost the number of apprentices.  The Chartered Management Institute stated that the scheme has had a “transformational effect” on how employers invest in skills.    But it has yet to make an impact on highly specialised industries such as engineering.  The EEF Manufacturing and Engineering Group’s guestimates reveal that for every £1 received from the levy, its companies spend £4 to £5 of their own to bring apprentices up to scratch.

According to The Sunday Times, the Scholars’ Education Trust in Hertfordshire paid £35,000 into the levy but not, so far, been able to claim back the resources via training apprentices.   Hazel Wale, the Chief Operations Officer, said, “In principle, it’s easy to see the benefit of the levy. In practice, it is not working so well.  If we could use it to access teacher training, it would make a huge difference.” If it does not use its contributions within two years of paying them, they will be lost. The government has countered by stating that the unused contribution will be available for small companies.

(c)        The Positives

Meanwhile, Barak Obama, the ex-US President, signed a proclamation declaring the first National Apprenticeships Week in the USA. The idea was borrowed from the UK, after a London trip by former Secretary of Labour Tom Perez. Perez, who was attending our national Apprenticeship Week in 2016, had been so impressed with the idea, he told Obama that the US should have its own.

According to The Times Educational Supplement, Donald Trump signed an executive order in June 2017 doubling the budget for apprenticeship grants to $200m (£144m), later approved by Congress. His administration announced a “moonshot goal” of achieving five million apprenticeships starts by 2020.

In the USA, apprentices make up only 0.2% of the workforce, compared to nearly 3% in the UK. However, the number of apprentices in the UK is much smaller than that of Germany and many other European countries.  We have still a long way to go.

But we can take heart.   Not only the Americans are learning from us. The Chinese Education Minister chose the UK to emulate in 2013 as part of an apprenticeship piloting programme.  A college in Shanghai began using the UK apprenticeship framework and curriculum.

Euan Blair, son of the former Prime Minister and Chief Executive of WhiteHat – a tech start-up that helps link young people to find apprenticeship opportunities, told the TES that a number of countries were looking at the UK model and exploring creating something similar.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton said: “We have changed apprenticeships so they are flexible, high quality and led by the demands of industry – and I have seen the positive impact this has on apprentices and employers across the country.  Apprenticeships are not only giving employers the skills they need to grow; they are also giving people a real alternative to traditional academic study so they can benefit from the excellent career prospects that they offer.”

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