The scale of the challenge of securing work placements for T-level students has been revealed by a new report. The Process Evaluation of Support for T level Industry Placements, published today, shows that over half of providers said five or more engagements with employers had been required to secure each work placement.
This comes as the government announced it will procure an organisation “with the appropriate expertise” to support 2020, 2021 and 2022 providers to help them deliver high-quality placements, as well as a suite of other support schemes.
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Industry placements are an integral part of the new qualifications, due to be introduced from September. Today’s report, written by the Institute for Employment Studies, said the figures “demonstrate the significant resource providers were required to mobilise in order to source their target numbers of placements”. 43 per cent of providers said they were in contact with between 0 and 4 employers per placement; 22 per cent with between 5 and 9 employers; and 15 per cent between 10 and 14 employers.
The report, which questioned providers involved in year 1 of the Capacity and Delivery Fund (CDF), which was set up by the Department for Education with the aim of helping providers prepare for the phased roll-out of industry placements and T levels from 2020. Providers had a target of sourcing 315+ hour (with an average of 350 hours) placements for 10 per cent of their eligible cohort of learners.
The evaluation found that the implementation of industry placements had “broadly been successful although some challenges remain”. However, the research showed sixth-form colleges found meeting their targets particularly challenging, compared to providers that had previous experience of employer engagement, including pilot providers and large general FE colleges with existing employer links.
Meanwhile, some large general FE providers in urban and metropolitan areas with a high target number of placements, as well as smaller providers in adjacent geographies, were concerned about competition between providers. “They believed that their local labour market had already reached a saturation point and that they were now contacting the same employers as their competitors. In addition, some larger FE colleges were also the ones most struggling with their internal resourcing of sourcing activities,” said the report.
“Where providers had fallen behind targets, they described challenges with staffing and capacity. Here again, there were differences by provider size and type. […] In sixth form colleges with small eligible cohorts, placement sourcing was commonly shared between different staff members (including teaching staff). Consequently, they had less time and capacity to invest in employer engagement.”
Today’s report showed significant differences in how challenging the sourcing of placements had been, depending on T-level route. “Of the 11 T-level routes, providers considered catering, education and childcare and hair and beauty as most easy to source placements for. These industries have a long history of offering young people work experience and suitable employers are found in every locality. In contrast, providers considered digital and creative and design routes the most difficult, largely due to the lack of suitable employers local to the providers. Employers in these industries (and employers in construction, engineering and manufacturing and health and science) also believed there were obstacles to hosting under 18s in the workplace which surrounded concerns about health and safety, data protection and whether employers’ insurances could cover this.”
Fitting placements into their timetable was also seen as challenging, in particular by sixth form colleges, according to the report.
Today, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan announced a new package of support to help employers and FE providers deliver T-level industry placements.
It includes “additional delivery models for employers and providers including new models for the way industry placements can be delivered in the construction and engineering and manufacturing routes, to reflect modern practices”, and “allowing Capacity and Delivery Fund placements to be delivered over two academic years, to bring them in line with T levels, with a reduced delivery target of 25 per cent for the 2020-21 academic year, to reflect the impact of the coronavirus on employers”.
The support also includes new guidance setting out the key roles and responsibilities for providers and employers, and a new guide for students to help them prepare for their placement, with hands-on support and advice so everyone can get the best experience possible.
The government will extend the Employer Support Fund pilot, launched in September 2019, to offer financial support to employers in selected regions where funding is a barrier to them hosting high-quality industry placements, and it will procure an organisation “with the appropriate expertise” to support 2020, 2021 and 2022 providers to help them deliver high-quality placements in line with the delivery guidance.
Ms Keegan said: “Industry placements will give young people invaluable first-hand experience of the workplace that they wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere, that is what makes T Levels unique and why they are at the centre of our ambitious plans to transform technical education.
“These placements will not only boost student’s confidence and knowledge but will also provide employers with a pipeline of skilled workers for the future, something that will be more important than ever as we recover from coronavirus.
“With this new package we are supporting businesses and providers so they are able to give students access to the best possible experiences and ensure all placements are high-quality from the start, so we can set up the next generation for success.”
The first three T levels in design, surveying and planning for construction, digital production, design and development and education and childcare will be taught from September 2020 with more rolled out gradually between 2021 and 2023.
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “Although technical education is not the core business of sixth form colleges, several of our members are involved in T-level delivery and have engaged in this flagship policy with characteristic positivity and innovation. Industry placements have proved to be the most challenging element of T-level delivery.
"It is no surprise that sixth form colleges – as providers of mainstream sixth-form education – have not reported the same levels of employer engagement as FE colleges, but they are making great strides with a smaller cohort. To paraphrase one sixth-form college interviewee in the report – we are in the teaching business, not the sales business – and although we understand the importance of employer engagement, that is an important point for policymakers to remember."