24 Feb 2023

Could T Levels reduce the ‘chronic’ skills shortage in manufacturing?

Make UK's director of policy Verity Davidge discusses how T Levels can benefit the manufacturing sector and what is holding employers back from fully engaging with them... 

We have often heard about the chronic skills shortage facing the manufacturing sector. But as a result of a combination of factors, from Brexit to the pandemic, the sector now faces an immediate labour shortage. ONS data shows there are currently 77,000 vacancies in the sector.  

With policymakers contending with complex issues around economic inactivity and reluctant to use immigration as a way to address people and skills shortages, one of the solutions that government and industry are turning to are the new T Levels. 

The appeal of vocational and technical education for the manufacturing sector does not come from the ability to ‘train quickly’, rather the need to bring through a pipeline of talent, with the right combination of technical skills and in-work experience, over time. Industry placements offer the first steps into the workplace for a young person with an interest in the sector who can develop and refine their technical skills, as well as in some cases providing an extra pair of hands for particular tasks to help ease immediate workforce pressures. 

Yet despite the clear advantages, take up of T Levels has been slow - in particular, the number of employers offering an industry placement for students. In fact, Make UK research in partnership with EngineeringUK found that currently, only one in ten (nine per cent) of engineering and manufacturing employers are hosting a T level placement, and just 12 per cent plan to in the coming year. 

We stand little chance of reducing the labour shortage unless we can encourage more manufacturers to take on a T Level student and offer an industry placement.   

Yet despite the clear advantages, take up of T Levels has been slow - in particular, the number of employers offering an industry placement for students
Verity Davidge, Make UK's director of policy

Employer awareness and understanding of the new qualification is key, and Make UK is proud to be working together with other sector bodies to ensure that businesses are able to access the information and support they need to provide industry placements and make T Levels a success. 

At this early stage of the sector’s journey in incorporating T Levels into their skills and workforce planning, consistent and clear messaging for employers is critical. 

Clarity over progression onwards from T Levels is also vital for employer buy-in. For manufacturers to develop that pipeline of new talent, giving learners the opportunity to move from a T Level onto a high-quality apprenticeship where they can continue their learning with greater exposure to the workplace is highly attractive. 

There is more to do to demonstrate that this route is possible, and that T Levels can complement, rather than detract from, existing apprenticeship programmes at the same level. 

The pipeline to engineering and manufacturing careers is lacking, in more than just numbers. So we need to make these pathways as accessible as possible to young people of all backgrounds, to ensure that we are meeting the future skills needs of UK businesses.  

If we are serious about kickstarting economic growth, it begins with connecting people with these very opportunities.  

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