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With graduates struggling to find work and the UK suffering from a simultaneous skills shortage, the Government will hope the new T Level scheme is their golden ticket to fixing this growing issue. 

The scheme will introduce more than twenty T Level courses, which will encompass various fields including business, engineering, digital services and health science. They involve a combination of classroom based learning and compulsory placement within the relevant industry. This will hopefully bring a cohort of highly skilled 16-19 year olds ready to enter the vital British industry of their choice.

However, though in theory they sound promising, T Levels’ reliance on private enterprise collaboration and their dependence on local economies threaten to undermine their goals. 

Doubts have been raised as to whether or not enough firms will have the capacity or the willingness to offer the number of placements needed to match T Levels’ demand. A report by Engineering UK estimated that, if T Levels catch on as intended, as many as 43,500 engineering and manufacturing sector placements will be required by 2024/25. However,only 12% of the 145 engineering and manufacturing employers said they intended to offer a T Level placement in 2023. This is due to legal constraints, added costs and added responsibility in training students.

Furthermore, in some areas, certain industries may not be developed enough – or even exist – to offer sufficient placements in that industry.This means the range of T Levels available for students may therefore vary and be restricted depending on the area they live in. Correlations risk emerging between the T Levels on offer and the respective prosperity of different areas. One only needs to look at the spatial distribution of some of the industries T Levels cater for to notice that scientific research placements are going to be more accessible in the South-East. Contrary to levelling up, this could exacerbate existing inequalities. 

Industries are also always changing, constantly evolving and innovating. New developments may require new or altered T Level courses. Will they and the underlying bureaucracy be flexible enough?

There are some policies which could be introduced to tackle some of these potential problems. To ensure there are enough placements, financial incentives could be offered to firms encouraging them to take on T Level students. Instead of the problematic Apprenticeship Levy, lump sum payments could be provided as a reward to firms who offer T Level placements. This would be a direct inducement to encourage companies to take on these young individuals, adding further incentive, with the Government already covering training costs and firms not required to pay T Level students.  

It is crucial that the government closely monitors the situation, in collaboration with educational providers and employers. The cooperation required from the private sector and the reliance of T Levels on local economies present major cause for concern, but if the Government acts quickly and recognises the potential pitfalls, T Levels will be the success we all hope for.

James Hibbert is currently undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: ThisisEngineering RAEng]