Round table report: How to engage with the future workforce

An insightful roundtable discussing T-levels and other workplace placements was held yesterday (5th July) at South & City College in Digbeth.

A panel of company’s already engaging with the future of the UK’s workforce joined our business reporter Anna Cooper to give their expertise on what workplace placements provide employers and students and how the introduction of T-Levels can help bridge a gap in further education.

Mike Hopkins, Principal of South & City College said: “Many students may go down a traditional academic route, and many go down a skills-based vocational route. There isn’t, however, anything in between that can straddle both routes.

“T-Levels will be largely academic with a vocational part, so students still receive vital workplace experience”.

“Here at South & City College, we really want to speak to businesses to see how we can tailor programmes to meet their business needs”.

A partnership has recently formed between Britishvolt and the Manufacturing Technology Centre, for Britishvolt apprentices to learn skills which will address current and future skills shortages.

Katie Sloggett, Britishvolt’s head of learning and development said: “We are also setting up a trailblazer for battery technicians as this kind of training is something that is just not happening.

“With workplace placements such as T-Levels, we’d need to be able to tailor programmes to fit our needs. How does it work to ensure that we can link apprenticeship training and T-Levels through a schedule?”

Hopkins said: “That is a challenge as for some company’s day release works best or a block of time.

“We really would like input from different industries as what works for civil engineering will not work for manufacturers.

“We are a college that supports the West Midlands and its economic market.

“Through our training programmes, there is very little that we don’t offer in an area that is quite disadvantaged in places”.

Sloggett replied: “Britishvolt are operating in Blyth in the North-East, a very socially deprived area.

“We have set up a foundation to work in the area to increase employability skills in the region and give it a boost”.

“We have a huge number of people not in education, employment or training (NEET),” said David Gaughan, head of employer services at the WMCA.

“For people just down the road, jobs in the city centre look like the emerald city.

“We have created a bridge into tech jobs through a digital bootcamp, to craft another route into employment.

“Individuals consume learning in different ways and sometimes at different times, therefore we need to consider the +19 market as 21,000 19-24 years old are NEET and the majority are in the West Midlands”.

James Wagstaff, programme delivery manager at MTC said, “Companies are struggling to recruit and are looking at a very small talent pool.

“Something we are seeing is there is a very small market for educators of apprenticeships”.

Hopkins revealed how South & City are working now with National Express, to create a workplace programme to ensure the next line of educators are being bought in and moving up.

Lincoln Smith, CEO of Custom Heat said, “Apprenticeships are a challenge for small companies as there is a fear that comes with taking on an apprentice.

“We have put so much time and money into them as we want to invest in them, and then they end up leaving.

“It would be great to ensure that we can retain our apprentices for much longer following their training”.

Answering Smith, David Gaughan, head of employer services at the WMCA said: “That’s why we have created a £37.5m levy transfer fund. This means it costs nothing for SMEs to take on apprentices.

“2500 apprentices have benefited in the West Midlands from this scheme and so have SMEs.

“Through our devolved powers, we have £150m a year that we can use in a way we see fit for the region.

Christina Pendleton, chief people officer at Intercity, echoed Smith’s thoughts and said: “We have had a lot of success with apprentice and graduate programmes.

“Digital skills are so highly sought after and the accreditations we’ve helped people receive can enable them to achieve massive pay rises.

“We have put a huge focus on developing internally as a strategy. So with T-levels and other workplace placements, it’s about putting investment into people and trying to ensure they stay and work for you afterwards”.

For founder of Autify Amad Tababa, who came to the UK from Libya in 2011, at the heart of workplace placements is mentoring.

He said: “What I noticed when I came to the UK was how kids were not given as much guidance as I was used to in Libya.

“It is currently so difficult to recruit in the digital market; therefore, the only route for Autify was training.

“Students can help out so much by completing jobs that are time-consuming but also they need to be instilled with confidence.

“We can’t focus on whether they will leave at the end – it’s all about the student”.