Ask The Expert: Paula Snowdon

T Levels are a new two-year programme that have been developed in partnership with businesses and employers to give students the knowledge, skills and experience that are needed to move into the world of work.

Paula Snowdon is industrial placement co-ordinator at East Durham College.

In every issue of East Durham Business, we focus on a particular company or individual to learn more about their area of expertise – the feature is called Ask the Expert.
This time around we chat to Paula Snowdon, industrial placement co-ordinator at East Durham College, to find out more about the new T-Level qualifications, which are being introduced by the Government to focus on technical education to help students work towards a career in a number of different areas.

EDB: Tell us more about T Levels.
PS: T Levels are a new two-year programme that have been developed in partnership with businesses and employers to give students the knowledge, skills and experience that are needed to move into the world of work. Essentially, they’re back to front apprenticeships in that 80 per cent of the qualification is completed in college and 20 per cent in the workplace.
They’re free to employers so really, it’s a win-win for them – they’re ‘trying before they buy’ and can shape the students on placement with a view to them joining the business once they’re fully qualified.

EDB: Who are the T Level qualifications open to?
PS: They’re for students who have completed their GCSEs and are moving onto the next level of education, so 16 – 18 years pre-dominantly. It’s the ideal qualification for anyone who wants to continue on their learning journey but is also ready for the world of work. Each qualification includes 45 days or 315 hours in the workplace and at the end of the qualification, you (they) will get a nationally recognised certificate showing the overall grade achieved – a pass, merit, distinction or distinction star.

The good thing is, T Levels are worth UCAS points – a T Level Distinction* is worth the same as three A Levels at A* and will be recognised by universities and other higher education providers. That means if they decide they want to continue studying rather than entering employment, they can.

EDB: What other benefits are they for students who sign up?
PS: Obviously, the educational benefits I’ve mentioned are very appealing for those individuals who aren’t sure what they want to do at the end of the qualification, as it means the option it still open for them to go onto university. But for those who are absolutely ready for work, T Levels give them a fantastic chance of securing employment as the skills they gain on placement are driven by the employer based on their business needs. The students also get a reference from the employer once they’ve completed the industrial placement, which is a great asset for them to have whatever they decide to do.

EDB: So, what sort of sectors do the T Levels cater for?
PS: At East Durham College we have vocational programmes in several areas including electrical; plumbing and heating; motor vehicle; engineering; catering; media; travel and tourism; hair and beauty, joinery, painting and decorating, Business, health and social care; and IT. The T Levels formally launch at the college in 2022, however in 2019 we started running a pilot programme which has already proved to be very successful – so far we have placed over 60 students with employers in the area, and Persimmon Homes was one such company that took on several of the students which is great.

EDB: You’ve had a good number of local companies sign up to the programme but you’d like more wouldn’t you?
PS: Yes. Employers already on board include: believe housing, Steadfast Security, Protech, Keepmoat Homes, Wellfield School, various car garages and salons plus a variety of community businesses. That’s fantastic but as we prepare for the full launch this September, we need more companies in the area to offer industrial placements. These placements are vital to the success of the T Level programme, so I would urge any employer in the area that thinks they can get involved to contact me.

Each of the businesses we work with have screened the students prior to starting. Firstly, CVs have been submitted followed by an interview process; this has not only enabled the students to gain the valuable experience of the employment recruitment process but the businesses have been able to vet the students to ensure they get the best fit for their organisation. As a result some employers have chosen to take on more than one student as they all have different skill sets that can complement each other.

EDB: Those companies that have taken students as part of the pilot have been very complimentary, haven’t they?
PS: Yes very. An employer who has one of our students, Craig, with them said he’s been so outstanding that they don’t even see him as a placement, rather as part of the team, because he’s making such an important contribution. That’s exactly what we want, as feedback like this will encourage other businesses in the area to come forward and get involved.

EDB: So, if a business is interested in signing up to the programme, what should they do?
PS: I’d ask any interested business to get in touch with me so that we can have a chat about what sort of placements they could offer and what they’d be looking to get from it.
Obviously, there are many benefits to businesses that do sign up, not least gaining a potential future employee, however they also have a responsibility to the student so they have to be prepared to commit to the learner’s training and development and ideally have staff on hand who can act as mentors.

Whatever your situation, there’s certainly nothing lost in giving me a call or dropping me an email to find out more about the T Level programme at East Durham College.

eastdurham.ac.uk / 0191 518 8318 / paula.snowdon@eastdurham.ac.uk

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