The Sheffield College has this year launched T-levels, industry-specific qualifications (worth the equivalent of three A-levels) for post-16 students. T-levels differ from the more traditional BTEC because 20% of the course must be completed in the workplace. In this post, we hear from The Sheffield College about why they need local tech firms to take on a T-level student and how they can support you to do so. We also caught up with Sheffield Digital member, Verticode, who build Minimum Viable Products for entrepreneurs and have recently worked with The Sheffield College to offer an industry placement (and think you should, too!).
What’s different about T-levels?
T-levels were launched by the government in 2020 as a means to bridge the gap between apprenticeships and A-levels. They give post-16 students the opportunity to study in one focussed area – such as Digital Infrastructure or Digital Production – through a combination of classroom and workplace based learning.
The 45-day work placement – undertaken on one day a week, from January 2024 onwards – makes up 20% of the course and is a mandatory requirement to pass. This is a well advertised aspect of T-levels, which contributes to the type of student you can expect to meet through an industry placement. Michael Rhodes, Employer Relationship Coordinator at The Sheffield College, explains,
“T-Level students have opted for this course and understand that the placement is mandatory in order to pass. They go into it with their eyes open, so they are generally enthusiastic and eager to learn and experience life in the workplace.”
“As the T-Level is industry specific, you can expect proactive young people who really want a career in tech and digital. Businesses can design an opportunity which we then advertise to the students and they apply to roles that interest them. Businesses select and interview a shortlist of candidates, before choosing the best match.”
Whilst Verticode worked with a BTEC student, the recruitment and matching process they underwent has been designed in anticipation of the introduction of T-levels. Tom Green, Verticode Co-founder, says,
“The College did a good job of streamlining the matching process to the point where it didn’t feel like committing to a fully fledged recruitment effort, but still offered some flexibility to find a good fit.”
Verticode selected three students from the applications they received and spoke to each on a call, from which one stood out. Reflecting on the quality of the shortlist, Tom states,
“We were impressed by the proactivity and maturity of all three candidates and would’ve been happy to take on any of them.”
Why should you step deeper into the talent pipeline?
Taking on a 16-19 year old placement student might not feel like the best way to build your workforce, and it probably won’t solve your immediate needs. However, there are longer term gains to be had, as Michael explains:
“It’s important that we engage local businesses who one day may have a job for these young people – we want them to see the pipeline of talent that the College is producing, and to nurture that talent. Equally, we want our students to see what brilliant opportunities exist in the city, so they stay here and pursue careers in tech.”
Tom’s take on this goes back to his decision to base Verticode in Sheffield, where he spotted an opportunity to tap into tech talent. He says,
“When we placed our company’s technical roots in Sheffield it was very much on the basis of the exceptional people and talent within the ecosystem. I think any company which has a footprint in the city should be looking to replenish the city’s human skill resource by encouraging young people to get involved in technology and motivate them to contribute to the great tech companies in the city, and perhaps even become a Founder themselves.”
Based on Verticode’s recent experience, Tom recognises the need to de-mystify and open-up the digital industries for young people, explaining:
“It seemed clear to me that our student came to see tech as less daunting over the course of their placement. Working with a young budding team showed them that careers in tech (and entrepreneurship in general) are accessible and shouldn’t be scary.”
Can you help?
The Sheffield College is looking for more local tech businesses to offer placements to this year’s cohort of students.
Michael explains that some businesses are unsure of whether they can offer a placement because members of their team often work from home. He says,
“Many tech companies have maintained a hybrid approach to home/office based working, so they can’t commit to being in the office every time their student is due in. In previous placements this has been rectified by creating a rota of different mentors so the student still has that in person support mechanism. A small amount of remote working is actually permitted on the placement (20%), but it is better to do the majority in an office environment and in person, so the student has people around them to learn from and ask questions.”
Some employers have shown concerns around the time commitment involved in giving their student meaningful and appropriate work to do. However, Tom from Verticode explains why this shouldn’t be a barrier to taking on a T-level student.
“We found the most effective way to work with our student was to combine small tasks, which could be completed in one working session (such as writing blog posts for the website) with larger ongoing projects (such as helping with client targetting or partnership strategies). This meant there was an ongoing theme to the placement but also some variety for the student.
“In truth it was hardly any effort to design the tasks but it’s important to reserve the time to support and guide them through their tasks and be on-hand if required.”
The tech related T-levels on offer at The Sheffield College are Digital Infrastructure (covering IT services and support) and Digital Production (covering coding and programming). So, if your organisation fits into either of these areas, you definitely have something to offer a student!
You can chat to Michael on the dedicated Slack channel, where he is sharing up to date information about the College’s T-level programme and you can also get in touch with him directly by emailing: email@example.com.