What T levels will mean for the built environment

T levels are a new route into the construction industry combining experience and study – and have been developed to better meet the needs of the industry


  • Steven Thompson

08 November 2019

In 2016, the government report Post-16 skills plan and independent report on technical education concluded that an alternative qualification to A levels was needed for school students who do not wish, or feel academically able, to follow the traditional route of attending university. Beyond the academic considerations, there are also the financial commitments and debt that result from a university or college education.

An option currently available to school leavers is an apprenticeship. This typically offers 80 per cent on-the-job training with 20 per cent accompanying studies, and is intended for those who know the occupation they want to follow, and wish to earn money from the age of 16. Apprenticeships currently exist for a wide range of construction roles, and RICS released data recently showing that the number of surveying technician apprenticeships and chartered surveyor apprenticeships has grown significantly in the past three years.

There is, however, a gap to fill between A levels and apprenticeships: enter the T level, a two-year course to be taken at the same time as students are taking A levels, resulting in a qualification equivalent to three A levels.

"The T level will comprise a mixture of classroom learning and work experience, and can lead to employment, further study or an apprenticeship"

Developed in conjunction with employers, businesses and representatives from relevant professional bodies, including RICS, the T level will comprise a mixture of classroom learning – at college rather than school – and work experience, and can lead to employment, further study or an apprenticeship. It will have two parts:
  • the core theory, concepts and skills for a whole industry area
  • specialist skills and knowledge for a particular occupation or career

In addition, students will be required to complete an industry placement with a suitable employer for a minimum of 45 days and achieve English and maths qualifications to key stage 4, otherwise known as GCSE, standard – if they have not already done so.

The government believes this qualification route will be a new gold standard in training and has issued a list of course providers. Three of the new T levels – from a total of 15 – are set to launch in September 2020.

One of the three early launches will be Design, surveying and planning, while Onsite construction will be launched in autumn 2021. The core content for Design, surveying and planning will include: health and safety, science, design, construction and the built environment industry, sustainability, measurement, building technology, information and data, relationship management, digital technology and commercial and business.

In addition to the core content, there are four potential occupational specialisms within the Design, surveying and planning T level: surveying and design for construction and the built environment, civil engineering, building services design, and hazardous materials analysis and surveying.

"The T level will provide a greater spread of knowledge and skills across built environment surveying"

Given that T levels relevant to our sector are yet be launched, it is premature to speculate on what they will mean for the industry. What we can say, however, is that the current choice of university degree in surveying or surveying-related subjects tends to force students into an early decision on specialism. The T level route will, in contrast, provide a greater spread of knowledge and skills across built environment surveying as a whole, with the chance to select a specialism at a later stage.

Widening the entry pool to the industry can only be positive, allowing for greater diversity in our workforce. The challenge for employers is to be in a position to offer T level placements. The Education and Skills Funding Agency and National Apprenticeship Service will be working with providers on industry placements. RICS will also be providing guidance specific to the surveying-related T levels.

Steven Thompson FRICS is associate director of the built environment at RICS

Related competencies include: Diversity, inclusion and teamworking

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