What are T Levels and how can they help close the skills gap?

Learn about the technical qualifications that are helping to equip learners with the practical skills and experience needed by industries facing skills shortages.

09 February 2023

For young learners finishing their GCSEs it can be hard to know the best next step to equip them with the skills they need for the workplace. It’s a decision made more challenging by the disconnect between the skills people are learning throughout their studies, and the ones that industries need.

From construction and engineering to agriculture, many industries across the UK are facing acute skills shortages. Simultaneously, according to recent City & Guilds research, 43% of young learners do not believe their education has prepared them to get the job they want.

This is where T Levels can help.

To celebrate T Level Thursday as part of National Apprenticeship Week 2023 (NAW), read on to learn more from lecturers, employer and students about the qualification that is shaping the future of technical education – and how T Levels could help prepare learners for an apprenticeship.

What are T Levels?

T Levels are a new generation of full-time, technical qualifications offered to post-GCSE learners. They offer a mix of practical and classroom-based learning and include at least a 45-day industry placement, to help equip young people with the core knowledge and skills they need to enter their chosen industry.

T Levels are two-year programmes equivalent in size to three A Levels. However, like apprenticeships, all T Levels have been specially designed in collaboration with employers to address national skills shortages. There are currently 16 T Level routes for learners covering subjects including construction, engineering, business and finance, agriculture, environment and animal care.

T Levels are designed to help students keep their options open while learning about opportunities in their chosen industry.

For each qualification, learners choose an occupational specialism which they study for alongside a core component. The core component gives students a broad overview of their wider industry to help them develop knowledge of general principles relevant to their chosen occupational specialism.

Speaking about the benefits, Jason Lindsey, who teaches the City & Guilds Construction and Building Services Engineering T Levels at Chichester College explains: “Students learn about all aspects of the construction industry, not just their own occupational specialism.” For construction, the core component introduces learners to topics like health and safety, sustainability, tools and equipment and more.

And while T Levels are relatively new, they are already shaping the future of technical education. From 2025, for example, T Levels will be the only full-time route for learners entering the engineering and manufacturing industry.

Learn more about what T Levels are and the benefits they offer

How T Levels can prepare learners with the skills they need for work

Another factor that sets T Levels apart from other full-time, post-GCSE qualifications is their balanced blend of classroom and workshop learning, with an industry placement of at least 45 days – a length of time previously unseen in full-time education.

By requiring an in-depth industry placement, each T Level gives students the chance to experience working in their chosen field and helps them to develop and hone the skills they are learning in the classroom onsite.

For Lindsey, this is an invaluable part of the programme: “It gives learners an opportunity to take what they’ve learnt in college and see it in the workplace... It also gives the students a foot into the industry, by showcasing themselves to potential employers.” The contacts that students make during their placement can open doors to apprenticeships and other opportunities later on.

Andy Hope, another Construction T Level lecturer at Chichester College, adds: “There’s only so much you can teach in a workshop or classroom. To have that opportunity for students to be out in industry and share that is going to be absolutely priceless.”

Hear more from the students and teachers at Chichester College in the video below:

At Cirencester College, former Construction: Architecture Survey and Planning T Level student Archie’s placement helped him secure a degree level apprenticeship. Archie joined Cirencester College’s first construction T Level cohort and for his industry placement worked with local builders EG Carter on the college’s new T Level building. Speaking about his industry placement, Archie says, “I got to see what I learnt in college onsite and put it into practice.”

As well as giving learners a solid foundation to pursue a career in their chosen occupation, these placements give employers a chance to shape the future of their industry’s workforce from the outset. EG Carters’ site manager James Coopey explains: “Students are gaining their qualifications and then they’ve also got site experience, which is one of the main things that employers look for... It’s good to see that qualifications involve a lot more practical work experience today.”

A practical pathway to an apprenticeship

While apprenticeships are addressing the skills gap through on-the-job learning, not all young learners are ready to enter the workplace at the age of 16. Studying a T Level can provide students with theoretical and practical skills to help them excel in an apprenticeship afterwards.

T Level qualifications are based on the same set of standards as apprenticeships, with various routes for progression in certain sectors.

While every T Level is different, for some routes the qualification can make students eligible for related higher-level apprenticeships. In certain circumstances, the skills students develop could even open doors to an accelerated apprenticeship. In this case, learners would become fully qualified earlier on, which is a huge benefit for employers facing skills shortages and learners now ready to enter the world of work.

T Levels give learners a space to build their confidence and develop the behaviours they will need to enter the workplace. They are also an opportunity for young people to make vital contacts in their chosen industry. These are all benefits that open doors to potential apprenticeship and job opportunities.

Whether it’s an apprenticeship, higher education or entering the workplace, Chichester College lecturer Jason Lindsey is confident that T Levels will help create opportunities for young learners: “Students leave here with a very wide range of knowledge and skills, it also opens their employment horizons and opportunities. It’s not just about the occupational specialism that they want to come and learn, they are also learning about the wider industry.”

How to become a T Level provider

Ready to get involved and raise the profile of T Levels? Join a growing list of providers across the country offering T Levels in the 2023/24 academic year and support young people on their journey to develop the skills they need for life.

Find out how to become a T Levels provider with City & Guilds

If you’re a student interested in T Levels, learn more at City & Guilds’ T Levels for Learners webpage.