March saw another UK budget and there were a couple of points that had direct relevance to the construction industry.
First Philip Hammond announced a National Insurance hike for self employed workers, which would have impacted tens of thousands of construction workers in the UK. Only to do a U-Turn on this pledge later in the month.
More positive news for the industry was the government's announcement to invest £500m into the recently introduced new technical qualification initiative called T-Levels.
Many within the construction industry have been quite vocal about the need for more to be done to firstly get future generations into the construction and secondly to better equip them to be ready for employment after qualifying.
The hope is that this new initiative will help on both of these points.
Full details of T-Levels are not yet known and many within the industry are keen to see the detail behind these qualifications before getting too excited, however the general response is that this is a positive step in the right direction.
What Do We Know About T Levels?
- 15 New broad subjects including Construction
- There is likely to be more than 15 subjects to study as each broad subject can be broken down into several more specific subjects. However the idea is that there will be considerably less than the 13,000 - 15,000 current technical qualifications you can take
- Studied as post 16 qualifications
- All students guaranteed a 3 month work placement as part of qualification
- Circa 900 hours study time per annum. Up to 50% more than some previous subjects
- Aimed to create Parity between academic and technical post 16 qualifications
- The first subjects should be rolled out as early as 2019 / 2020
What are the Potential Benefits to T Levels?
From what I can see there are potentially several to the construction industry.
Firstly the simplified process of having fewer subjects makes the whole system easier for everyone involved to understand. From students to employers and even educational originations such as universities. Under the previous
Establish Parity Between Academic & Technical Qualifications
The UK's system of studying A Levels and then going on to University works very well. Most understand it and more and more students each year seem to be going through this system in to University.
The Technical route seems a lot more complicated. With thousands of subjects available to be studied, it seems students are often confused. Employers do not always know which qualifications to value and some Universities do not recognise certain vocational courses currently available. These are just a few factors as to why the UK ranks towards the bottom of the developed World for attracting youngsters into vocational training.
An article in the Guardian last year (The government seems poised to get it wrong on technical education again) highlighted that as few as 30% of youngsters in the UK choose to go into vocational training. This compared to an average of 50% in the developed World and as high as nearly 75% in Germany.
The Government have pledged £500m in funding towards rolling out T Levels. This commitment is a positive step in the right direction and shows significant backing to really make a success of this initiative.
Most importantly for students wanting to study technical qualification at a higher level (Levels 4 - 6), the Government seem to be recognising that youngsters studying technical qualifications also need financial support comparable to their counterparts studying academically at Universities who receive Student Loans. This could be a huge factor in attracting larger numbers into technical qualifications at a higher level.
What are People's Concerns?
I think people are largely supportive of the idea of simplifying the route in to Technical qualifications and trying to create some parity between academic and technical further education. I would say the only concern is how this is now implemented. The theory and intent is positive, however executing this is going to take a lot of consultation with industries to ensure that these courses really do educate and train students adequately to possess the skills that employers in industry require post qualification.
This seems a 3 step process to me. We need to attract more youngsters into technical courses, we need to train them adequately with the skills that industry requires and finally we need to do all we can to ensure a smooth transition from gaining a qualification to finding work.
Those two final points will ultimately be what employers and construction bodies want to see more detail on before giving their complete support to the initiative.
All in all I feel most people affected by these changes will feel a sense of optimism about these plans. It seems to be a step in the right direction and if executed correctly this change could have a hugely positive effect on supplying the Construction industry with a higher volume of adequately trained construction staff for years to come. We'll be eagerly awaiting further details as they become clear, however if you're a youngster wanting a career in construction or a parent with a child keen to enter the industry, it seems the next generation could have more opportunities and support than any previous.
Senior Recruitment Consultant – UK & Middle East