Why universities should embrace T Level placements  

Feb 5, 2024

Joanne Hartley-Metcalfe, University T Level Support Manager for the UK Institute for Technical Skills and Strategy (UK ITSS) discusses why universities should embrace T Level placements and how they contribute to longer-term sustainability of technical skills and careers.  

Achieving net zero, finding solutions for future food sources and innovating in health care are just a handful of goals that require the specialist skills of technical professionals. So growing technical capability and capacity across the UK is fundamental to innovation in science and expanding career progression routes into technical careers will play a major part in this.  

As a former Science Teacher with 16 years of experience within senior educational management roles, I am deeply passionate about post 16 vocational education and applied qualifications. 

Having been involved with T Levels since April 2020, prior to their September 2020 launch, I was instrumental in helping to source employers to host industry placements, which are a requirement to meet the T Level Technical Qualification in Science. 

Now I am bringing my skills, experience and passion as the national University T Level Support Manager for the UK Institute for Technical Skills and Strategy, to actively advocate for and accelerate the UK technical skills and careers across education, research and innovation. 

T levels are a fantastic opportunity for universities, not just to welcome a broader range of students onto their undergraduate courses, but also to provide valuable 45-day placements within technical teams to inspire the next generation of technical talent.  

Spearheading science placements and career pathways  

The University of Liverpool has been one of the first universities to get onboard, committing to host four T level placements across their science technical teams, more recently increasing this commitment to eight. 

As a Technician Commitment signatory and the first university to launch a new Research Technical Professional Career Pathway, the University of Liverpool has been spearheading alternative career progression pathways for technical skills and careers for several years.  

Broadening technical career pathways and providing clear entry routes into technical careers opportunities is one of the recommendations published in the TALENT Commission report (published in February 2022), which sets out 16 recommendations in total to increase technical capability and capacity in UK academia, research, education and innovation.  

Offering T Level science placements within technical teams is just one way to achieve this and I’m confident that many other universities will follow suit when the recognise the value of hosting a T Level placement.  

What is a T Level placement?  

T level qualifications have been designed to meet the needs of industry and to prepare students for entry into skilled employment, an apprenticeship or similar technical study through further or higher education. The most exciting and unique aspect, that clearly differentiates this qualification from other level 3 qualifications, are the industry placements.  

The aim of the placements is to provide on-the job involvement and practice, over two years, whilst studying towards a level 3 qualification.  

This is not just ‘work experience’, this is a fantastic opportunity that will allow young people to immerse themselves in the exciting world of technicians. Not only developing technical and practical skills, but also allowing them to grow as an individual, to mature, learn how to effectively communicate, to be independent, self-sufficient, capable and workplace ready! 

The benefits of hosting a T Level placement  

Introducing young people into the world of technicians is something which the Gatsby Foundation has been doing for many years through its Technicians Make It Happen campaign.  

It is important to note that many technical professionals can come from either a vocational or academic background, but currently there is limited opportunity for technical professionals to move between career pathways and across sectors.  

We are here to help change that, as sharing best practice fuels innovation.  

Furthermore, universities offering T Level placements will get early access to individuals to recruit into technical apprentice roles. Many technicians start their career this way and complete degree apprenticeships before going on to a rewarding career supporting research and teaching in universities.  

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Starting the T Level journey  

However, it has been recognised that the journey to becoming a T Level industry placement host, can be a little overwhelming. The Institute for Technical Skills and Strategy can offer support in several ways, I will be: 

  • advocating for T Level industry placements 
  • providing insight into T Level qualifications 
  • encouraging engagement with T Level industry placements 
  • facilitating relationships between universities and local T Level providers  
  • offering advice to university management, technical teams, HR, mentors, health and safety departments, essentially all stakeholders that may need support in order to successfully set up and host T Level industry placements. 
  • offering ongoing support to the technical teams and mentors who have day to day contact with students on placement 
  • promoting the universities involvement with T Levels and the UK ITSS nationally, in order to drive the ongoing commitment to technical careers 
  • building connectivity and community across the sector around hosting industry placements 
  • capturing learning from universities as they begin to offer industry placements 
  • raising awareness of how placements lead to career progression within your institution

“As the Universities T Level Support Manager, I am available to provide direction and guidance to ensure your journey is a supportive one. I bring to the table a wealth of experience having served in the teaching profession for the past 16 years, first and foremost, as a science teacher. My professional portfolio evolved and expanded vastly to Director of Applied Qualifications, Head of Quality Assurance, Head of Department, external examiner and educational author, to name but a few. 

“It is amazing to have a job that lets me do what I am most passionate about. My passion has become my career and I am truly looking forward to networking and working with many teams in different institutes up and down the country.” 

Jo Hartley-Metcalfe

Get in touch with Jo by email: Jo.Hartley-Metcalfe@nottingham.ac.uk

Want to know more about becoming a Technician Commitment signatory?
Visit www.techniciancommitment.org.uk