Academia spotlight: Creating new routes into construction for T-Level learners

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Dr Hannah Wood, principal lecturer in built environment at the University of Brighton, explains her work to provide new routes into higher education for those undertaking technical-based T-Level construction qualifications.

Tell us about the research you are working on

Recently I have been working to provide routes into higher education for new T-Level learners. At the University of Brighton, we have been working in partnership with East Sussex College which is one of the first providers delivering the new Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction T-Level.

T-Levels are a new qualification at level 3 (taken after completion of GCSEs and equivalent to three A-Levels). The aim is to provide a technical-based qualification that meets the needs of employers and prepares students for work, further training, or study. T-Levels were introduced as part of the government’s Post-16 Skills Plan in response to the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Technical Education (the Sainsbury Report).

One of the defining elements of a T-Level which makes them stand out from other qualifications is the inclusion of a significant work placement, which gives learners an insight into the construction industry and helps them to identify the area they might like to specialise in. Students also undertake study in an occupational specialism to complement the core knowledge and skills developed. In the Design, Surveying and Planning T-Level these are: surveying and design for construction and the built environment; civil engineering, building services design and hazardous materials analysis and surveying.

“I am passionate about encouraging young people to consider a career in the construction industry.”

Dr Hannah Wood

The first wave of T-Levels was rolled out in September 2020, organised into three strategically important areas to the UK economy: digital; education and childcare; and construction. That construction was included in the first wave demonstrates the importance of the sector and the drive to encourage more young people into both the professional and operative roles that the industry has to offer. 

What’s the problem/issue?

It is well known that within the UK construction sector there is a significant skills shortage – T-Levels and the technical education agenda are one way that this is being addressed. Currently there are a huge array of different qualifications which can be confusing not only for those progressing onto post-16 education and their parents and carers, but for employers, training, and higher education providers too.

T-Levels are designed to simplify the system of technical qualifications at level 3, providing learners with an option to take a qualification which has been designed in partnership with industry and is aligned to industry roles, apprenticeship programmes and degree provision.  

How do you see your work helping?

I am passionate about encouraging young people to consider a career in the construction industry and about improving the representation of women and people from ethnic minorities in the industry.  I have always found construction fascinating and knew from a young age that I wanted to work in the industry in some capacity, however lots of young people don’t really understand the different professional roles in the industry and the variety of career opportunities the industry presents. 

I am also keen to promote higher education as a route into industry, especially to those who might not normally consider going to university. The work I have been doing around T-Level learners brings these aspects together, and while T-Levels have been designed with work in mind, they also provide an excellent grounding for many of our construction-related degrees and degree apprenticeships.

Who is it aimed at in the industry?

The work I have been involved in provides a link between further and higher education providers to ensure there are relevant pathways of progression from T-Levels, to not only work and training, but further study as well for those students who want to pursue undergraduate study.  In the past year we have set up a community of practice (CoP) between the University of Brighton and East Sussex College in each of the first wave of T-Level subject areas.

I have represented the built environment subject area on the Construction CoP, alongside colleagues from the university outreach, apprenticeship & technical education teams as well as college staff who are delivering the new T-Level programme.

The CoP has allowed us to engage T-Level learners throughout their time at college to help them decide on their next steps. We have run events at the university specifically for the T-Level students, which have covered talks and activities to explore the different career options in the construction industry, different routes into industry, whether university study is right for them and some of the construction-related research we do at the university, for example how VR can be applied to construction.

Due to covid, many of these events have been held online, but we are planning to bring the T-Level learners onto the university campus for more hands-on activities and some joint site visits with our undergraduate students to give them an insight into our courses and the industry as a whole.

Where do you go from here?

The first cohort of T-Level learners will be completing their courses this summer (2022) and the second wave of T-Level subjects have been approved and began delivery in September 2021. The second wave includes two further courses in the construction route: Onsite Construction and Building Services Engineering, which I am currently mapping against entry requirements to our undergraduate courses to provide the most suitable pathways for progression. 

Whilst the introduction of T-Levels alone will not solve all the skills shortage problems in industry, it is encouraging to see that construction is central to plans to overhaul technical education and that clearer pathways into all aspects of construction-related careers are being considered at a strategic level.

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